With the July deadline for declaration of an overcrowding emergency rapidly growing closer, Nebraska news media are reporting that the Department of Correctional Services is exploring a public-private partnership to build a new 1,600-bed prison.
The ACLU of Nebraska strongly opposes any plan to try to build out of the current crisis.
As of NDCS’ latest report, the prisons system is at nearly 160% of design capacity with an average of almost 5,600 people incarcerated every day, the second most-crowded system in the nation. Chronic overcrowding and understaffing prompted a lawsuit, with a class certification request currently pending, taking issue with systemic, concerning prison conditions including a lack of basic health care and disability accommodations.
ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad says building any new prison, including one potentially built by and leased from a private entity, will only add to current problems while costing taxpayers millions.
“I cannot understand why the department would want to embrace a business model that depends on locking up more and more of our Nebraska neighbors,” Conrad said. “Nebraska is struggling to adequately staff the facilities we already have and partnering with a private company only opens the door for increased human rights violations that we’ve seen in other states. We should be focused on diverting people out of our prison system and reuniting families instead of building new beds in a never-ending attempt to keep up with our broken system of mass incarceration.”
As Nebraska’s prison population has risen, so has the cost burden.
The ACLU’s Blueprint for Smart Justice shows Nebraska’s Corrections general funding has increased by 290% between 1985 and 2016 – far outpacing spending in other areas, like higher education, which grew by just 57% over the same time period.
Private prisons have also been linked to dangerous conditions and violence, with one major provider – CoreCivic –forcing numerous ACLU lawsuits due to understaffing, falsified records and violence behind bars. One Idaho facility run by the company had four times the number of assaults of the state’s seven other prisons combined.