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Serious misbehavior at Nebraska State Penitentiary leads to major lockdown, widespread searches
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Serious misbehavior at Nebraska State Penitentiary leads to major lockdown, widespread searches

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The Nebraska prisons director has had it with misbehavior at the Nebraska State Penitentiary. 

A recent increase at the prison in assaults, drug use and possession of contraband, including weapons and cellphones, has led to a lockdown of the prison that began Wednesday morning and extensive searches. 

Department of Correctional Services Director Scott Frakes said in a news release that he is taking a "no-holds-barred approach" to stopping the increase in disorder. 

“No matter if it’s K2, alcohol or other substances, staff members are dealing with inmates who are intoxicated and are often confrontational when they are in that state,” Frakes said. “That, in addition to the homemade weapons that have been discovered, represents a serious compromise to facility safety. The only way to address this is to stop all movement and thoroughly search the facility.”

The lockdown and searches will continue until further notice, Frakes said, with staff members doing organized and intensive searches of housing units, looking specifically for alcohol, drugs, weapons and cellphones.

With the lockdown, all visitation hours with inmates through Friday are canceled. A lockdown is considered a significant and unusual action to restore order and ensure the safety of everyone inside a facility, he said. All inmates are confined to their cells and are under direct escort anytime they are outside their cells. 

During the Labor Day holiday, visitation was canceled because of reduced staffing, Frakes said. The decision to go into lockdown was not the result of staffing challenges, but a decision to address safety concerns.

Concentrated, surprise searches have been conducted for a number of years at the penitentiary and other prisons, but this is on a larger scale, he said. 

Michele Wilhelm, warden at the penitentiary, said assaults have increased in the past month, on staff members and among inmates. One of those resulted in a staff member being treated at a hospital, and other assaults have led to a few inmates getting outside treatment for injuries.

Use of K2, a synthetic marijuana, has also been on the rise. Several vials were confiscated in the past month, but inmates continue to be found impaired, Frakes said.

Staff at the penitentiary, along with staff at other prisons, will conduct extensive searches of cells, bathrooms, day rooms and other areas that have seen the highest illicit activity. Members of the Corrections Emergency Response Team and the agency's trained canine team will assist.

The increased searches will continue over the next few days to identify where the contraband is being hidden and how it is coming in, Frakes said. That could include the use of handheld metal detectors, cellphone-detecting devices and X-ray machines, in addition to personnel physically searching every corner, he said.

“Basically, anything that can be moved, disassembled or crawled into will be inspected,” he said. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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