Special committee looks at mental health and restrictive housing - News, Weather and Sports for Lincoln, NE; KLKNTV.com

Special committee looks at mental health and restrictive housing at state prisons

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Posted by: Marlenia Thornton

mthornton@klkntv.com

State lawmakers are still working to better our state prison system.

A special committee met at the capitol Wednesday to discuss mental health and segregation practices.

It's estimated 9 out of 10 prisoners in segregation have at least one behavioral problem.

Nearly 3 out of 10 those inmates have a serious mental condition.

Officials said the prisons struggle to treat people properly.

"We still have gaps or deficiencies in how we effectively provide those mental health services to the inmate population,” Office of Public Counsel Representative Jerall Moreland said.

Some senators think it's the use of restrictive housing that's hindering access to needed help.

The department is working on creating less restrictive environments.

This July, a legislative bill started a reform plan for segregation, which prevented the use of it for punishment.

One of the criteria allows anyone to be placed in restrictive housing if there's a threat to the safety of inmates and staff

Some senators think it lacks a level of due process and is subjective.

Since its implementation, about 42 percent of those in restrictive housing are in there under this reasoning.

The head of corrections, Director Scott Frakes, said it needs some work.

"Part of it is getting people to continue rethink the use of segregation, the use of restrictive housing. It's a big culture change."

Many of the department's top medical staff are gone.

Its chief psychiatrist is leaving.

Officials said several issues with access to adequate mental care and treatment boils down to under staffing and overcrowding.

"These guys can legislate as they choose to and say you're not going to use it anymore, but they don't have a choice because they don't have enough people, enough resources,” Former State Senator Steve Lathrop said. 

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