Gov. Pete Ricketts says the Department of Correctional Services is working to improve the prison system and crack down on staff members who smuggle contraband to inmates.
A staff member was recently arrested after an investigation into how synthetic marijuana was smuggled into the State Penitentiary in Lincoln.
“One of the challenges you know that we have is that we’ve got to make sure we have the appropriate levels of staff in our facilities, especially at the state penitentiary and Tecumseh,” Ricketts tells reporters during a news conference.
Ricketts says the investigation into how K2 got into the prison with its subsequent arrest indicates Corrections took the presence of drugs seriously.
The Department of Correctional Services issued a progress report this week outlining initiatives it says have transformed the state prison system.
Ricketts says the biggest step is offering bonuses of $2,500 to new hires to fill vacancies at Nebraska’s two maximum security prisons: the state penitentiary in Lincoln and the prison at Tecumseh.
“And it’s focused on Tecumseh and the state penitentiary, because that’s where we have the issues,” Ricketts says. “If you look at our other eight facilities we actually are being staffed appropriately there. Where we’re really looking to focus on retention is Tecumseh and at the state penitentiary.”
Filling vacancies is a key to controlling the Corrections budget. The department estimates the state can save $13,000 per year for every vacant position it fills.
“We certainly have more work to do, but Dir. (Scott) Frakes is taking us in the right direction,” according to Ricketts. “We know we’ve got a lot of work to do. Corrections was under-invested for a number of years and we had a number of problems, but by focusing on the things that are outlined here in the report, we have made progress.”
A number of programs also are underway to help prepare inmates for life on the outside and cut the rate of recidivism.
Ricketts says he has made it a priority to increase funding on Corrections, working with the Unicameral in 2015 to add $37 million to the department budget over a two-year period. Last year, an additional $26 million was appropriated. Another $75 million was added this year to expand housing to care for aging inmates and increase programming for prisoners with behavioral health needs.