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Where to build the next prison: One small town says it’s "not a good fit”

Published: Oct. 28, 2020 at 6:00 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Between aging buildings and the overcrowding emergency, the director of Nebraska’s Department of Corrections said the state needs another prison.

While right now there are no official plans to build one, the Mayor of Waverly said the state reached out to him, asking if the town would be open to a prison.

Though its only hypothetical, Mayor Mike Werner and Waverly residents 10/11 NOW spoke with Wednesday said they don’t want it in their town.

April Tweedy, who has three children in the Waverly school district said she wouldn’t be okay with it.

“It’s not the right community, it’s not the right fit,” Tweedy said. “I just wouldn’t feel safe having a state prison here.”

Werner said he and other city leaders were approached in the spring about building the proposed 1,600 bed corrections facility near town.

“We calmly and politely said we don’t believe this town would be appreciative to have a jail or correctional facility in Waverly,” Werner said. “We have a very young community, a lot of children.”

Werner said it was clear the state was looking for somewhere along I-80 near Lincoln and Omaha to build the facility so they’d have enough staff.

In a legislative hearing last week, NDCS Director Scott Frakes said the new facility would require 450 workers and they won’t find them in rural Nebraska.

“Tecumseh’s problem, in the beginning, was there was just nowhere to draw from,” Frakes said.

As of now, up to 80 workers are bussed from Omaha to Tecumseh each day and 30 are bussed from Omaha to Lincoln.

City leaders in Waverly said they should build the prison closer to Omaha to help with staffing.

Though right now the prison is purely hypothetical, Frakes said it will soon be necessary because many buildings at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln are at the end of their lifespan.

“They don’t have ten years left in them,” Frakes said.

Frakes said in the session the new prison wouldn’t solve Nebraska’s overcrowding problem but would get the state below the 125 percent capacity threshold needed to remove the overcrowding emergency.

10/11 NOW asked the department for a full list of towns they’ve approached as well as more information about the selection process Thursday morning and didn’t get a reply.

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