Debates continue on how much money NDCS should receive and how to spend it

Debate on whether to build a new penitentiary or spend funds elsewhere

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – During the Appropriation hearing on Thursday, one senator was fed up with this debate, pointing to the fact the Department of Corrections has already received $100 million over the last few years to combat overcrowding, but no changes have been made.

Many can agree that the current penitentiary in South Lincoln is not in good condition.

“It is old, and it is probably at the end of its useful life, but you’re not addressing the overcrowding problem,” said Senator John Stinner.

What senators can’t agree on is the best way to use money given to correction this fiscal year.

“We’ve given corrections as much as we can, over $100 million of increases, 50 percent increase, and we are not even there. We haven’t moved the numbers,” said Senator Stinner.

The ACLU of Nebraska executive director Danielle Conrad testified on Thursday that the funds should be spent in other ways.

“Imagine what kind of transformational investments we could make in mental health, in economic opportunity in educational equity, instead of battling over a massive new prison that does nothing to address our problems,” said Conrad.

Director of the Nebraska Department of Corrections Scott Frakes, argues that Nebraska has been under-built for 40 years. Cells that were built to be for two people, currently house four people.

“The solution to this problem isn’t just about just building beds to address complicity, when we talk about our population management, it’s building beds to make the math work correctly. It’s building beds so that our design and statutory operational capacity are consistent with the number of people that we house,” said Frakes.

A concern brought up during the hearing was if we do build a new penitentiary and it is not in Lancaster County, how many employees would actually move to the new location?  The suggestion was then to build it on the current land.

“Building a new unit where the ball field is, so now there is no recreation space, moving one group of inmates into that living unit, tearing down their unit, and all at the same time we are supposed to somehow allow for programming and feeding and recreation and all of those components and not have people access tools, access building materials, or worse case of all escape from the facility. For a project that I could see going on for 5 to 7 years, I can’t sign on for that. That’s bad business for me as well as a bad investment for the state,” said Frakes.

There have also been rumors surrounding where the new location may be.

“The last thing that I would want is to try and force myself into an area or community where the general consensus is that we don’t want you there,” said Frakes.

The appropriations committee must approve a budget for the general funds spending that will then hit the debate floor for three rounds of debate before being approved.

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