LINCOLN, Neb. – The ACLU of Nebraska is calling for state and prison officials to address chronic overcrowding in the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services in the wake of the first confirmed COVID-19 patient in the prison population.
Tuesday night, NDCS announced that a man at Community Corrections Center – Omaha tested positive for the virus. The facility holds roughly twice as many people as it was designed for, and – like Nebraska’s prison system as a whole – overcrowding has worsened there in recent months.
ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad said it’s certain that inhumane conditions of overcrowding will unnecessarily complicate efforts to respond to the virus.
“Director Frakes is right. It was always a matter of when, not if, the virus would hit our prisons – but dangerous levels of overcrowding didn’t have to be part of the equation,” Conrad said. “It’s long past time for meaningful action addressing chronic overcrowding and understaffing, which have put the health and safety of everyone in our prisons system at risk. This test result makes the need even more urgent.”
Nebraskans from across the political spectrum have urged officials to follow the lead of other states by taking emergency action to reduce prison populations.
The ACLU of Nebraska first called for this action in March.
The latest confirmed case of COVID-19 in the prisons system comes just more than a month before state law requires Gov. Pete Ricketts to declare an overcrowding emergency, a move that is meant to begin the process of reducing the prison population to 140% of design capacity.
NDCS reports about 40% of Nebraskans in their custody are there because of non-violent crimes. About 800 people are already parole eligible but have been denied release because in many cases they have not completed programming that NDCS has not provided at a sufficient level.