Repairs completed on leaking pipes at state penitentiary

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. 28, 2021 at 3:17 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (Press Release) - Water service has been restored to the Nebraska State Penitentiary following repairs to several pipes on the campus. Water was initially turned off at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Facility maintenance workers and external repair crews “worked through pouring rain on Wednesday to identify breaches in the pipes and get them fixed,” according to a news release. Water was restored to all but one housing unit by that afternoon. The facility was completely back on normal operations around 2 a.m. Thursday morning.

“Facility maintenance staff are still working to resolve some carry over issues today,” said Nebraska Department of Corrections (NDCS) Director Scott R. Frakes.

“Notice was provided to all staff and inmates prior to turning off the water,” noted NSP Warden Michele Wilhelm.  “We brought in portable stools for everyone to use. We had more than 9,000 bottles of water on hand and made sure that everyone in the facility had something to drink. Use of the showers was delayed until water service was re-established. We tried to maintain normal operations to the extent possible.”

Dir. Frakes said problems with pipes at the facility is not a new issue. “It is a situation that predates me, certainly. What made this unique was the cascade effect that resulted when water was turned on again. But, when sections of the pipe are corroded, leaks and joint failures are going to occur.”

The ability to address major maintenance issues in any prison presents challenges. NDCS currently has $60 million in maintenance projects across all its facilities. Around $12.5 million of that is for identified issues at the Penitentiary.

“The agency has received appropriate funding to address maintenance needs, so the backlog is not about the money,” explained Dir. Frakes. “The challenge is making repairs within a fully occupied prison. We do not have the space or infrastructure to completely relocate inmates to another space, while repairs are underway.”

The Nebraska Legislature this year approved $14.9 million in state funding for the design and siting of a new prison that will serve as a replacement for the Nebraska State Penitentiary.

“In order to provide the most secure housing for maximum and minimum-level inmates, a new facility is the smartest investment,” said Dir. Frakes. “Otherwise, we will never get out of the ongoing cycle of making repairs – repairs that are even more expensive due to the age of that facility and the issues involved with working around a higher security population.”

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

More than 1,200 inmates at the State Pen were without water after the state said repairs to leaking pipes required the water to be shut off Tuesday afternoon.

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