February 19, 2016
LINCOLN, Neb—During legislative committee hearings last week, Nebraska Department of Corrections Chief Scott Frakes testified in front of the Nebraska Legislature’s Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee.
ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy A. Miller released the following statement:
“The taxpayers of Nebraska want a correctional system that both protects the public and makes smart use of tax dollars. While the ACLU is pleased with recent legislative progress, Nebraska’s prison system is far from achieving the public safety and fiscal concerns many Nebraskans have. The reforms passed in 2015 will take five years to reduce our prison population overcrowding to emergency levels. The proposals for additional funding this session, while better than nothing, would mean three years with constitutional violations such as lack of access to health care, mental health treatment, exercise, ventilation and other concerns repeatedly cited in investigations by the ACLU and the Ombudsman’s office.
The use of solitary confinement in Nebraska continues to be the second highest in the nation. We are reviewing reports now of inmates still locked in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day—but now forced to share a cell. This isn’t providing necessary human interaction—this is setting the prison up for physical violence between inmates forced to share tiny cramped spaces. For nearly three years, the ACLU has been reviewing complaints and monitoring the conditions in Nebraska’s prisons. We have clients who have waited for basic mental health care for more than three weeks after their emergency pleas for help in crisis. We have clients who have been waiting for basic prescribed medications for over three months. Given the emergency state of dire conditions, we are commencing a serious review of these individual cases to determine which of these inmates has a valid civil rights claim.
The statements made by the Department of Corrections are not an accurate portrayal of the conditions in our prisons, nor an accurate assessment of the law when it comes to constitutional violations. The Nebraska Legislature has a chance this session to do more by not only expanding access to community corrections and mental health care in our prison system, but by giving judges the ability to make common sense decisions about sentences. In order to invest in the health of our communities, we need to stop wasting money imprisoning nonviolent offenders, such as drug and petty theft offenders.
The time to solve these problems is not three or five years from now. The ACLU plans to make a decision in 2016 about pursuing systemic litigation to address the constitutional violations in Nebraska’s prisons that harm public safety and waste tax payer dollars. The Legislature should not pass on its opportunity to make policy decisions that are more certain and efficient for the Department of Corrections and Nebraska taxpayers.”
Learn more about the ACLU’s investigations: https://aclunebraska.org/smartjustice