Temporary Structure to Ease Nebraska Prison Overcrowding

LINCOLN, Neb. — Following upon a recently filed class-action lawsuit by the ACLU of Nebraska citing prison crowding and a general state of chaos, the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services will open a 100-bed, 7,000-square-foot temporary housing dormitory at the Community Corrections Center in Lincoln this September.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of Nebraska inmates and alleges that the quotidian experience of inmates is that of an adverse health and safety environment, which endangers the well-being of both prisoners and staff.

The cost for the temporary 100-bed, modular housing unit is expected to be $1.8 million; the final cost won’t be known until the project is completed, the Department of Correctional Services spokesperson Dawn-Renee Smith told the local Lincoln Journal Star news service. The structure will be located near the southeast side of the main prison building.

Architectural firm Carlson West Povondra, based in Omaha, Neb., designed the industrial-style, temporary building and will also design a permanent 160-bed expansion at the Community Corrections Center set to be completed in April 2019.

In the meantime, seven new staff positions, including a sergeant and five corporals, will also be added. The initial inmate move will begin with 50 inmates and the remaining 50 will arrive through the rest of the year.

Legislation passed in 2015 aimed at reducing the prison population hasn’t done much to bring down inmate numbers the past couple of years as area prisons are still at 160 percent of capacity. The number of inmates in incarceration was intended to drop by more than 1,000 by the year 2020; however, the population has only decreased by only 142 to date.

Besides trying to reduce prison overcrowding, officials are also working on sentencing reform and changing efforts within the parole system. Still, the process has its critics.

“Nebraska’s prison conditions are inhumane and unconstitutional, and ultimately, they hurt public safety,” wrote Amy Miller on the ACLU of Nebraska blog. “We can’t reduce recidivism rates among former prisoners if, instead of being given rehabilitation opportunities, they have been horribly traumatized during incarceration.”

According to a 2015/2016 annual report by the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services and the Nebraska Adult Parole Administration, the U.S. Deptartment of Justice found that the state’s prison system is one of the most overcrowded in the nation, with some facilities at 200 percent capacity.