Staffing shortages, synthetic drugs contributing to 'alarming' conditions at Nebraska's biggest jail

Staffing shortages, synthetic drugs contributing to 'alarming' conditions at Nebraska's biggest jail
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Nebraska's largest prison faces problems ranging from staffing shortages to an increase in use of synthetic drugs among inmates, a state watchdog said this week.

Inspector General of the Nebraska Correctional System Doug Koebernick said in an eight-page report to lawmakers that he had identified ongoing problems throughout the state prison system, with the most serious at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, according to The Associated Press.

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"I've spent some time talking to individuals connected to the Nebraska State Penitentiary and thought I would share with you that I have some serious concerns about the stability of the facility," Koebernick said in a letter to Gov. Pete Ricketts’s (R) office, the AP reported.

"The issues raised with me are alarming and that facility may be in the worst shape of all of our facilities,” he added.

The watchdog reportedly noted that low unemployment in Nebraska has left prisons understaffed, with the number of “protective service” job vacancies at the state penitentiary reaching a two-year high of 77 in June.

The inspector general also found record amounts of overtime, with employees at the state penitentiary working more than 18,500 hours of overtime in June compared to 11,1000 in January 2018, much of it mandatory, according to the AP.

State Sen. Steve Lathrop (D) said the mandatory overtime exacerbates the vacancies, as employees’ inability to achieve work-life balance leads many workers to seek other jobs, the news service added.

"It's very concerning," Lathrop said. "We're going in the wrong direction. When we're short-staffed, it's a safety risk for the inmates and the people who are working there."

The report also reportedly identified a “rather substantial” amount of contraband circulating in the penitentiary, including the synthetic drug K2, which the report noted mimics the effects of marijuana.

The Hill has reached out to the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services for comment.