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Nebraska state penitentiary water shut-off a symptom of aging corrections facilities

Port-a-potties were seen outside the Nebraska State Penitentiary Wednesday afternoon after...
Port-a-potties were seen outside the Nebraska State Penitentiary Wednesday afternoon after repairs forced the water to be shut-off for around 24 hours.(KOLN)
Published: Oct. 27, 2021 at 10:52 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Angela Torske is frustrated.

After her husband, who is an inmate at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, went without running water at the penitentiary for around 24 hours.

“He can’t brush his teeth, can’t take a shower, the toilet in his cell could be flushed once that’s all,” Torske said.

Her husband and more than 1,200 other inmates were in the same situation after the state said repairs to leaking pipes required the water to be shut off Tuesday afternoon.

Now, a representative from the Department of Corrections says some water has been restored after crews worked as quickly as they could.

But Doug Koebernick, ombudsman for the state, said this is not an isolated incident.

“Over the last few years they’ve identified about $60 million in maintenance repairs that have been deferred,” Koebernick said. “So they have a lot of older infrastructure issues that need to be addressed.”

NDCS said they’re aware of these problems and they have asked and received funding for repairs. But, Koebernick says that’s not the issue.

“There are limits to how much work can be completed at any given time within a fully occupied prison,” the statement said. “The issue has never been the money, it’s a reflection of the aging infrastructure because with each passing year the list of items that need to be addressed, grows.”

In a conversation with Senator John Stinner, head of the legislature’s appropriations committee, he said the appropriations committee is aware of the concerns and it’s one of the committee’s top priorities right now.

Stinner said the last time NSP was renovated was in 1980 and with a “useful lifespan” of 50 years, the clock is ticking. However, the bigger question is whether they should repair the prison or build a replacement. Stinner said the appropriations committee has allocated $120 million to go toward prison reform and studying whether or not a new prison is the right answer.

Either way, pressure is mounting to make a decision, with thousands of inmates dealing with the side effects of the aging building.

“Just because they’re in prison doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get access to basic human rights, especially water,” Torske said.

While the water was out at NSP, the state said inmates were provided bottled water and access to port-a-potties. 10/11 NOW saw port-a-potties on site for employees.

Some inmates and their family members were concerned they weren’t providing enough water. Koebernick said his crew was going to go to the prison to check on Wednesday.

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