Nebraska's prisons are expanding.
And Friday afternoon, the Department of Correctional Services gave a preview of another phase of that expansion: 57,000 square feet of space for female prisoners in the Community Corrections Center-Lincoln, northwest of Pioneers Park.
"This is such a beautiful space," said Corrections Director Scott Frakes, standing in the commons area of the unit.
For people who might question why he would call prison space beautiful, he said he likes to say that form follows function, and the goal was to best meet the needs of the population the prison serves.
The department looked at what it could build at a reasonable cost and created space conducive to programming and helping people heal from physical abuse, sexual abuse and childhood trauma.
"We're talking about a population that has significant trauma," he said. "I really believe we're at the forefront of working with females in correctional settings."
The unit offers an environment that is therapeutic, including well-apportioned two-person rooms, separation from the male population, exercise space and a visiting room conducive to interacting with children, he said.
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The expansion will have a positive domino effect across the prison system, Frakes said. It opens space in the Community Corrections Center-Omaha and in Lincoln for 112 more work release beds for men.
And it will put the department at 95 percent design capacity for women, he said.
Gov. Pete Ricketts spoke at the open house, saying the Legislature worked in partnership with his administration to fund $117 million in capital improvements to the prisons. This year, Frakes has also asked for $49 million to add 384 high-security beds at the Lincoln Correctional Center.
"Ninety-three percent of the people who are in our system today will be leaving someday, and we want to help prepare them to leave so they can be successful and not return," Ricketts said.
The expanded unit for women will have more space for programming, which is a key to successful re-entry to the community, Ricketts said.
It will also bring 22 jobs to Lincoln, and more women will be available to work at Lincoln community businesses, Frakes said.