Legislators have mixed reactions in wake of a disturbance at the Tecumseh state prison which left two inmates dead.
Judiciary Committee chair, Sen. Laure Ebke of Crete, has been asked whether she sees the violent outburst in a housing unit at Tecumseh as a symptom or an aberration.
Her answer: a little of both.
“We know that there are deeper problems in the department. I don’t think that’s any big secret.” Ebke tells reporters during a news conference with state Corrections Director Scott Frakes.
Ebke says she wants to withhold judgment until the results of the Nebraska State Patrol investigation into the disturbance is complete. She says lawmakers need to work with Corrections to improve prison conditions.
“This instance is probably something of an aberration, but shouldn’t be necessarily unexpected,” according to Ebke.
It wasn’t unexpected to Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln who headed up a committee which last year studied the problems in the Department of Correctional Services. That committee concluded Corrections needs tens, if not hundreds, of millions of additional dollars to fix problems within the prison system.
“We are addressing this major issue in Corrections in a way that is not going to truly change the underlying culture and the significant problems that we have,” Pansing Brooks tells Nebraska Radio Network.
Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse, who has the Tecumseh prison in his district, says lawmakers must stick with their plans to improve prison conditions.
“You have an incident, no matter how you define the incident last week, you have an incident like this, it’s really more than just unfortunate, it tests our resolve to see what we are doing and the processes and the policies that we put into place,” Watermeier tells Nebraska Radio Network.
Watermeier points out the Unicameral adopted legislation to provide more programming in an effort to ease overcrowding. Pay raises have been given to prison staff. Work is underway to fill vacancies, such as those at Tecumseh which force staff to work longer shifts as well as overtime.
Corrections officials say 39-year-old Damon Fitzgerald and 31-year-old Michael Galindo died apparently at the hands of other inmates during the hours prisoners were locked unattended in Housing Unit Two of the maximum security prison.
An investigation of the incident is underway by the Nebraska State Patrol.
Tecumseh remains in lock down indefinitely.
A riot on Mother’s Day of 2015 left two inmates dead as well.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]