Nebraska Wardens Conference Looks at “Reimagining Corrections”

LINCOLN, Neb.—Wardens, superintendents and their deputies left Lincoln with plenty of ideas and information following a four-day long, presentation-packed conference. “Reimagining Corrections” was the theme of this year’s annual event, hosted by the West Central Wardens & Superintendents Association (WCWSA).

“The last time Nebraska hosted this event was back in 1953,” noted current association president and warden of the Nebraska State Penitentiary, Michele Wilhelm.  “This was a great opportunity for us to showcase the programs, partnerships and initiatives that we have happening in our correctional system and share that information with other state correctional systems.”

Thirty wardens, superintendents, associate and deputy wardens from Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Arizona, Alabama, Oregon and Oklahoma attended the training conference, September 13-16, 2021 at the Lincoln Marriott Cornhusker Hotel. Presenters included Workforce Liaison Shawn Sherman, Peru State College; Executive Director Kasey Moyer, Mental Health Association of Nebraska; Global Director of Business Development Scott Brown, Gallup; Director Elizabeth Stanosheck, Prison Fellowship; Director Jason Jackson, Nebraska Department of Administrative Services and others.

In addition to presenters and vendors representing outside organizations, program managers within the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) also had the opportunity to share their perspectives on managing inmate populations, increasing employee engagement, and implementing process improvement techniques as a means of creating efficiencies and cost savings.

“We wanted this to be a wide-ranging and informational week for our attendees. The conference usually focuses on current correctional issues. Those areas can include justice enforcement, technology, legal decisions and other relevant topics. What makes this event unique is that we put strong emphasis on participant interaction and on sharing best practices, leadership challenges and experiences. Hopefully then, people leave with ideas that can make them better leaders in their own state facilities,” explained Warden Wilhelm.

NDCS Director Scott R. Frakes, who officially greeted the group at the opening banquet said, “It was an honor for Nebraska to host this event. Having spent over seven years as a warden, I can truly appreciate how challenging the job is and how they have one of the most important roles within the corrections system.”

“Even though our states vary in terms of the number of staff and those who are incarcerated, we all face similar challenges. Collaborating to solve those issues is extremely beneficial,” said Warden Wilhelm.

In addition to hosting the conference in Nebraska for the first time in 68 years, Warden Wilhelm marked another milestone – the retirement of WCWSA Executive Director John Thalacker. The former warden from Iowa retired after leading the organization for 16 years.

“John was very excited to have Nebraska back in the association and having our state host the conference again,” said Warden Wilhelm. “The conversation doesn’t end when the conference is over. Year round, we call or email each other to ask what other states are doing. There are hundreds of years of correctional experience in that room. Knowing I can ask a question or bounce an idea off someone else has certainly helped me professionally.”