Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. Nebraska prisons are the most overcrowded in the nation. (Rebecca S. Gratz for the Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — A staffing emergency in place since October 2019 at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln will soon be lifted.
Nebraska Corrections Director Scott Frakes announced Wednesday that normal work schedules, and normal inmate activities, will return July 18.
Due to a shortage of staff, the State Pen has been on a modified, seven-day, 12-hour operational schedule, which also included cutbacks in visitation time for inmates, bag breakfasts delivered the night before and limits on inmate recreation and rehabilitation programs.
Frakes said that an influx of new hires, prompted by salary increases adopted last year and hiring bonuses, has allowed the emergency to end.
He said the department has hired 472 new employees in recent months, 410 of those in protective service positions such as corporal, sergeant and caseworker.
At the penitentiary, there are just 18 job vacancies in protective services now, compared to 76 in December.
The staffing emergency lasted longer than anticipated, Frakes said, “but throughout the pandemic, the schedule served us well while dealing with the challenges brought by COVID.”
Staffing emergencies remain in place at two other prisons, the Tecumseh State Prison in Tecumseh and the Reception and Treatment Center in Lincoln.
Frakes said the agency is planning to take RTC from a four-day work schedule to seven days sometime this summer, though that prison will probably remain on emergency staffing for a while longer. He has said that ending the staffing problems at the rural Tecumseh facility may take longer.
Thirty-four jobs at the State Pen will remain on 12-hour shifts permanently at NSP. Frakes said the agency learned there is a benefit of having key posts remain at 12 hours, allowing a crossover between shifts.
Returning to a 16-hour operational day for inmates means four more hours a day for volunteer programs, recreation and other pro-social activities, which improves conditions for inmates, Frakes said. Returning to 40-hour work weeks for most employees helps with their work-life balance, he said.
The agency now has 167 open protective service positions compared to a high of 427 vacant positions in October.
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