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Douglas County Corrections director talks about overcrowding crisis, mentions progress

Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 9:55 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Overcrowding is a crisis hitting prisons nationwide including in Douglas County. Now add on COVID-19.

The impact is being felt from staffing to health protocols. A few weeks ago, Douglas County Corrections had so many inmates, they were forced to move some of them into two gymnasiums.

“We were just piled on top of each other. No social distancing whatsoever.”

A former inmate describes it as sitting in recycled air, nearly shoulder to shoulder on a floor cot for days.

The county corrections director Michael Myers says the situation isn’t ideal, but for quarantine purposes, housing some people in the gym is the most effective temporary scenario when there’s overcrowding.

“We take an extraordinary amount of precautions to try and prevent the spread of COVID. We even separate people into cohort groups within housing units.”

That means people booked the same day are isolated together, not mixed in with the general population until they have a negative COVID test. Recently finished renovations allowed for nearly 100 more free beds and emptying the gym.

But this man says it doesn’t make much difference when germs are still spreading elsewhere.

“In between them using the phone and the shower, there was no sanitization for the regular general population inmates.”

The former inmate believes common touchpoints aren’t cleaned often enough. Myers explains sanitizer is placed at phones for inmates to use independently.

But between some staff out with COVID, others moved to different posts and regular duties, they don’t have the resources to go behind everyone.

“It is a daily challenge that takes an extraordinary amount of effort and coordination by our staff to make sure that we’re matching the inmates with proper level of security while also trying to keep everybody safe from COVID.”

Security is another concern Myers says the public should understand impacts resources behind bars. His CO’s bear the responsibility of finding appropriate space for inmates with unique psychiatric needs and varying offense levels.

“We have minimum security, inmates being house in maximum beds for their initial quarantine period.”

The former inmate understands jail isn’t a vacation but says his experience was horrible. He was always hungry, constantly felt filthy, and experienced anxiety heightened by the pandemic.

He says many people are only there because they can’t post bail and wants the public to know taxpayer dollars don’t seem to be going far.

“There’s still a standard of ethics and humanity and it’s not being handled appropriately at all. You’re treated like an animal.”

But Myers says progressive has been made. The jail has several vaccine clinics a week and within two weeks, they’ve gone from 15 of their 29 housing units being on lockdown to just three.

The 481 vaccinated inmates make up 41% of the inmates. The corrections director says on average, there are two vaccine clinics a week.

Not only an opportunity for inmates to get the shot, but also to learn about the vaccine.

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