“It’s having an impact on their mental health.”

The prison staffing shortage impacting those behind bars

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN)-We’ve heard from the director of the Nebraska Correctional Services, prison worker union representatives, and a wife of a prison worker.  Now we hear from Samar Akins who is a former inmate who still has contact with those on the inside.

“I’m in almost weekly contact with the inmates that are incarcerated. They are doing the best that they can to try to maintain through this crisis, but I mean at the same time, it’s defiantly having an impact on their mental health,” said Samar Akins, former inmate advocating for those still inside.

Because there is not enough prison workers, for the most part, inmates are in their cells 24 hours a day Friday through Sunday, which includes not having visitation on those days.  Akins friends on the inside say it’s not only hard to not see family, but it is causing friction between inmates and their loved ones.

“The majority of the family members, they are prone to believe the administration. They are prone to believe, okay you guys must not be doing something right, that’s why they are canceling your visits, that’s why you are on lockdown. Then you have the inmates saying no we are not doing anything wrong. They are doing everything they can, saying I am not in segregation, I am in the yard, I have no infractions or anything of that nature. So it creates a little friction between the family member and the inmate. Some of the family members get discouraged, and some want to give up,” said Akins.

Something Senator McKinney brought up during the last hearing, was early release for the inmates who qualify.

“You have 5,300 people in prison today, you do the math, it’s $40,000 for one person to spend a year in our state penitentiary,” said Paul Feilmann a therapist and volunteer at multiple prisons in Nebraska.

An alternative to spending that money on inmates is to spend it on other programs.

“Before you end up going to prison, they divert you into a program where you can get mental health, substance abuse treatment, counseling in close supervision support to help you get a job and reestablish a restorative justice,” said Feilmann.

The director of the states prison system says they are more than 600 workers short right now.  Many say at the moment there doesn’t seem to be a clear solution.

“I listened to Director Frakes testimony, and I’ve worked with him on things that we can change and he is really receptive to that, he was almost waiving a white flag. He just really can’t figure out what he can do to do rehabilitation and make conditions livable in the prisons with the staffing that he’s got,” said Feilmann.

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