LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) – On Wednesday evening, current and past Nebraska Department of Corrections employees described what it’s like to work on the front lines amid a staff shortage.

Many described similar scenarios of staff shortages across the system and expressed concern not only for the future, but for the safety of their own team as well.

The listening session before the Judicial Committee of the Legislative Assembly was sometimes moving. Many have expressed a passion for the job and their working families, but worry as things continue to get worse that there is no end to the struggle in sight.

“With the staffing where we are now, it’s dangerous,” said Jeff Seeley, lieutenant at Tecumseh State Correctional Facility. “It’s scary and I regularly put people in positions where they end up being assaulted and put in positions where they encounter scary situations.”

Nebraska’s two largest prisons, State Penitentiary and Tecumseh, have officially been in emergency since 2019.

Now it’s up to four, including the Lincoln Diagnostic and Assessment Center, a building designed to accommodate 160 inmates. Right now there are around 420.

Staff expressed growing concerns at this particular facility. People like James Hebbard, who during his testimony was asked how many people normally work during his shift.

“At night, I work from 7 pm to 7 am. On a good day at D&E, probably five if we’re lucky, ”Hebbard said.

Hebbard had previously said in his testimony that ideally this building would have to have between 15 and 25 people to be considered fully staffed.

Money was also a common theme as a problem. Many of those who have testified as permanent workers are not entitled to any registration or retention bonus, which in recent years has ranged from $ 10,000 to $ 15,000.

Support staff, who include roles such as social workers or those leading programming, are often drawn to other positions to help during the shortage, but said they are not being paid at the rate of these. roles.

“I think what’s going on with these retention bonuses and these hiring bonuses has created a wedge, created an us versus them type mentality,” said Brian Koch, who works at multiple NDCS facilities as a manager of the NDCS. workforce development.

Many witnesses described work days that stretch for more than 17 hours. This means that many times the inmates are also not released during these times for things like showers, ice, hot water, or even meals.

“It’s serious. It got to the point where I was working in a specific housing unit and we would lock that up a lot,” said Brooke Myers, who works at Tecumseh. “Inmates would come in and tell me, Myers, if we let’s keep locking in something that’s going to happen, it’s already brewing, everyone is frustrated, something is going to happen.

Omaha Senator Terrell McKinney asked all the witnesses if they thought building a new prison was a good idea. Right now there is a proposal on the table for $ 230 million in Nebraska. Witnesses were split roughly evenly between yes and no. Many of those who said yes also said only after the staffing issue was resolved.

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