Lockdown ends as penitentiary moves to modified operations

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LINCOLN, Neb. -- The Nebraska State Penitentiary is moving off lockdown status, but will remain on modified operations at least through the weekend. Scott R. Frakes, director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS), says outside visits to the facility will continue to be canceled during that time, but the step down to modified operations will allow inmates to have some controlled movement outside of their cells.

“For instance, they will start to have access to the showers and their dayrooms, but there will not be any unescorted movement off of the units,” explained Director Frakes.

Inmates started receiving notice of the planned changes on Thursday night. “They will continue to be notified throughout the process,” said Director Frakes. “We want the communication to be as clear as possible to the inmate population as well as staff members.”

The penitentiary went into lockdown on Wednesday morning so that organized and intensive searches could be conducted of cells, restrooms, dayrooms and other spaces. “The decision to shut down activity across the facility was not spurred by any single incident,” said Director Frakes. “But, there was no doubt that strong and direct action needed to be taken based on the number of recent assaults and discovery of contraband.”

Director Frakes said he is not ready to discuss what may have been uncovered in this recent sweep. “Suffice to say, we are now focused on moving operations back to normal, but in a precise and controlled way.”

Michele Wilhelm, warden of the penitentiary, said inmates have been cooperative during the lockdown. “It is stressful anytime there is a break in routine and I can appreciate that. At the same time, we have a responsibility to make sure that anything that compromises the security of the facility is dealt with immediately.”

Wilhelm also offered her appreciation to the regularly assigned staff members as well as others who volunteered to assist. “They have all stepped up in a big way to ensure that we’ve had enough people to make this operation go as smoothly and as quickly as possible.”

Director Frakes said the status of the facility will continue to be assessed throughout the weekend. “We will continue to gauge the situation as we go. Much of the decision to return to normal operations will be based on the conduct of the population.”