Gov Pete Ricketts has given his blessing to a proposed $230-million dollar state prison to reduce chronic overcrowding. Corrections Dept Director Scott Frakes will present the project to the Legislature early in next year’s session.
The state has tried for years to ease crowding in Nebraska’s prisons by expanding parole, changing some sentencing laws. and creating new diversion programs but the inmate population has continued to grow.
Making the situation worse has been the state’s struggle to fill jobs at all the state’s correctional facilities, but especially at the prison in Tecumseh, a small town more than 50 miles away from both Omaha and Lincoln.
Frakes told reporters Monday that a new prison is “truly the best construction value for our state” compared to other options that state officials explored, such as expanding current facilities.
He doesn’t know where it would be located, but believes the need for staffing and outside rehabilitation services would likely rule out small towns – pointing to the constant struggle to full staff Tecumseh.
The new prison would add 1,512 new prison beds for a total of 6,562 in all facilities. Nebraska currently has 5,540 adult inmates in facilities that are collectively designed for about 4,050 with the population projected to reach 6,438 by the end of 2025.
The estimated $230-million construction costs would be spread out over roughly 4-½ years. The prison would have a modern design with improved safety features and lower utility costs that would help keep operation costs to about $34-million a year.
Frakes says operating costs would further be lowered by converting the maximum-security Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln to a minimum security facility and making a similar conversion at the Work Ethic Camp in western Nebraska.
The plan could face resistance from some lawmakers, who have pushed for more changes to sentencing laws and more rehabilitative programming as the best way to reduce crowding.