State senators on a special legislative committee overseeing reform of the state corrections system say it will take more money and staff to address recent unrest in the state prisons.
The state corrections director infers the problems might run deeper than that.
The committee has met for hours with Director Scott Frakes with the Department of Correctional Services during a hearing at the Capitol.
Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha tells Frakes that fixing corrections will come at a cost.
“I have to say, just for the record, we’ve had this conversation the whole time you’ve been here. It became apparent to us that money was going to have to be part of the equation,” according to Krist.
Frakes has been with Nebraska for about a year and a half, coming to the state with an extensive background in corrections from the state of Washington.
Frakes recently announced he will give $500 bonuses to staff in positions of high vacancy and high turnover, which includes corrections officers, case workers, licensed mental health professionals, chemical dependency counselors, food service workers, and registered nurses. The bonuses will be paid later this month to approximately 1,000 workers at a cost of half a million dollars.
The Ricketts Administration has said it will send a new pay proposal for the department to union officials, a full month before the state normally enters salary negotiations.
The prison system has been fighting a real hiring problem. Frakes insists he is able to hire corrections officers, but acknowledges he does have some problems retaining them. Overall, the Department of Correctional Services has a 30% turnover rate. Frakes would like to see that cut in half.
Frakes tells lawmakers there is no doubt extra staffing and with it the ability to add programming would improve the prison environment in Nebraska.
“Hear me clearly, I am not making excuses,” Frakes says. “I am not denying that staffers are tired, I am not denying that if we were fully staffed and significantly cut overtime and were delivering more programming it will be a safety and healthier system. But, none of those are going to necessarily stop these random acts of violence.”
Frakes says gang members have become an escalating problem in the prisons.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1 min.]