Big Pay Hike Getting Credit For Easing Prison Staffing Shortage

L-R: ASL Interpreter Sharon Sinkler; State Chief HH Officer Jason Jackson; Gov. Ricketts, Corrections Dir Scott Frakes, Fraternal Order of Police VP Jerry Brittain

     Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts says the state’s push to increase pay for front-line prison staffers appears to have eased some of the chronic shortages that have caused problems in the corrections department. 

      Ricketts told a news conference Monday morning that the number of weekly job applications to the corrections department has nearly tripled since raises were approved in November as part of a new union contract.

      Not only have applications jumped from 34 to 96, the number of vacancies in the agency has fallen by more than half, from 427 to 206 and officials predict last year’s 30% turnover rate will fall to less than half that this year.

      Despite the rosy numbers, the nation’s most overcrowded prison system still has long-running staff shortages with the State Penitentiary, the Tecumseh prison, and the Lincoln Reception and Treatment still under staffing emergencies.

      Corrections Director Scott Frakes told Monday’s news conference he can’t predict when those emergencies will be lifted and operations will return to normal.

      Currently, all 3 facilities have limits on recreation and rehabilitation time with sack breakfasts delivered the night before. Tecumseh and the Treatment Center also limit inmate movement with no visitation Thurs-Sun with staff working 4-day, 12 hour shifts.

     On top of that, about 80 corrections officers are transported by van each day from Omaha to Tecumseh and the Penitentiary, although Frakes said the Penitentiary won’t need the help much longer.

      Nebraska’s prison system has struggled with worker shortages for years, a problem that worsened during the COVID pandemic and even raised security concerns. 

     The new union contract provided an $8-an-hour raise for staffers and double-time pay for overtime.