State penitentiary on lockdown as NDCS does 'intensive searches'

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LINCOLN, Neb. -- The Nebraska State Penitentiary is currently on lockdown for intensive searches in response to recent reports of assaults, drug exposures, and contraband, according to the Nebraska Department of Corrections.

“That will continue to be the case until further notice,” NDCS Director Scott Frakes said. “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.”

In a release, NDCS said all visitation hours with inmates through Friday are canceled.

During the Labor Day holiday, visitation was canceled due to reduced staffing.

Doug Koebernick, the Inspector General for NDCS says the problems have been building.

"I don't recall an entire facility being locked down like this," said Koebernick. "There's been a lot of warning signs out there and it's been a really troubled facility for a while."

Director Frakes said the decision to go into lockdown was not the result of 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 the introduction of K2 into the penitentiary has also been on the rise.

“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.”

For the rest of the week special corrections teams including K-9s will continue searching cells but identifying who the items belong to can be hard.

"Sometimes they'll find it in a cell so then you have two people in a cell. Trying to determine who brought that in is a little more difficult," said Koebernick. "Sometimes its in a common area and then its very difficult to determine that."

Koebernick says even after the searches that the investigation into the contraband will continue.

"They'll be asking inmates questions," said Koebernick. "Staff will be digging in trying to figure out where this came from. It's pretty difficult to track it all down and that's why we have this problem."

NDCS also says that while they are looking to locate not only contraband but also to identify where and how it is getting into the facility.