Prison panel talks recent flooding, overcrowding issues

The topic of overcrowding in Nebraska’s prisons was covered by experts at a forum called “Nebraska’s Prisons at a Crossroads.”
Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 10:22 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2022 at 9:56 AM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - A burst pipe at the Nebraska State Penitentiary last week caused so much water damage it shut down a housing unit, with no exact timeline of when it will re-open.

This isn’t helping Nebraska’s inmate overcrowding emergency, a topic covered Wednesday by a panel of experts, including one whose job is to keep tabs on the prison system. Doug Koebernick is the Inspector General for the Nebraska Correctional System, he said it’s a mess that could have been avoided.

“There were recommendations to do a study of the water system, the plumbing, back as early as 2009, if not earlier, and nothing was ever done,” Koebernick said.

As a result of the flooding, 134 state pen inmates had to be moved to a brand new housing unit at the Reception and Treatment Center. That’s delayed the transfer of a different group of high-security inmates to the new unit, a transfer that’s supposed to alleviate some overcrowding.

Koebernick said the State Ombudsman’s office visited the 134 state pen inmates at the RTC to understand what they are going through.

“They’re losing a lot of those privileges that they had at the other facility,” Koebernick said. “As far as their out-of-cell time, going to different parts of the outdoor yard, going to the gym, going to eat in the cafeteria. Things that have really impacted them. So it’s causing some stress on them.”

Koebernick also said many of those inmates, most of whom are seniors or require medical accommodations, still don’t have access to their personal items and have limited communication.

The topic of overcrowding in Nebraska’s prisons was covered by Koebernick and other panelists at a forum called “Nebraska’s Prisons at a Crossroads.”

Panelist Carla Walker was once incarcerated at the York Women’s Prison. She said while she didn’t go through a situation exactly like the state pen inmates, she knows how tough it can be.

“Imagine living in a house and it’s falling down around you,” Walker said. “And the powers that be aren’t living there and don’t seem very concerned. It affects everything in a really negative manner.”

10/11 NOW also reached out to the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services directly for more information on how these displaced inmates are being impacted, but have not heard back.