LINCOLN – Plagued by a string of unrelated assaults, weapons and drug contraband, the Nebraska State Penitentiary was placed on lockdown this morning – and it will remain that way until further notice.
Prisons Director Scott Frakes says he is taking a no-holds-barred approach to stemming the latest uptick in assaults, drug exposures and contraband in the Lincoln prison. This is a significant and unusual action, taken to restore order and ensure the safety of everyone inside a prison facility. All inmates are confined to their cells, and are under direct escort any time they are outside of their cells.
The lockdown that started Wednesday morning will last until prison officials are satisfied that any remaining contraband has been discovered and eliminated. “[The lockdown] will continue until further notice,” noted Director Frakes. “During this time we will have staff members doing organized and intensive searches of housing units, looking specifically for alcohol, drugs, weapons and cell phones.”
All visitation hours with inmates through Friday, September 6th are canceled. During the Labor Day holiday, visitation was canceled due to reduced staffing. Director Frakes said the decision to go into lockdown was, however, not the result of these staffing challenges, but a decision to undertake actions necessary to address safety. “We’ve been doing concentrated, surprise searches for a number of years, including at the penitentiary. This is not new, but it is certainly on a larger scale.”
“Over the past month or so there has been an increase in assaults, not only on staff members, but also among inmates,” added Michele Wilhelm, warden at the penitentiary. “One assault resulted in a staff member receiving treatment at the hospital. Additionally, a few inmates have received outside treatment for injuries.”
Director Frakes said that introduction of K2 (commonly referred to as synthetic marijuana) into the penitentiary has also been on the rise. Several vials of the substance were confiscated in the past month, but individuals continue to be intoxicated.
“No matter if it’s K2, alcohol or other substances, staff members are dealing with inmates who are intoxicated and are often confrontational when they are in that state,” said Director Frakes. “That, in addition to the homemade weapons that have been discovered, represents a serious compromise to facility safety. The only way to address this is to stop all movement and thoroughly search the facility.”
In the coming days, staff members from the penitentiary, supplemented by staff from other facilities, will be conducting thorough searches of cells, bathrooms, dayrooms and other areas that have seen the highest illicit activity. Members of the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT) will also assist in those efforts, as well as the agency’s trained canine team.
“We will ramp up searches over the next several days to the highest level possible. We want to identify not only where the contraband is being hidden, but if possible, how it is coming in,” said Director Frakes.
While not going into the specifics about how searches will be conducted, Director Frakes said the agency has a variety of tools at its disposal including handheld metal detectors, cell phone detecting devices, the aforementioned canine team, and x-ray machines.
“Those technologies are in addition to the considerable use of personnel that will be utilized to physically search every corner, high and low,” stated Director Frakes. “Basically, anything that can be moved, disassembled or crawled into will be inspected.”