NDCS hearings continue at State Capitol

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - A Judiciary committee continues to probe the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services about problems behind prison walls. Director Scott Frakes faced senators for about an hour at the State Capitol Friday afternoon.

The hearing followed a State Inspector General Report that warned lawmakers about conditions, which included a lack of staffing and excessive overtime. Frakes spent some of the time focusing on re-entry programs.

Frakes said that overcrowding has been an issue as sentences get longer and less inmates become parole eligible. That also makes re-entry more difficult.

Frakes said the decrease in staffing also means fewer case managers can work with inmates on those re-entry programs. But eventually, it all comes down to the prisoner.

"They come with trauma, they come with long histories of substance abuse. They come with sexual and other violent abuse against them," said NDCS Director Scott Frakes. "I'm not dealing with average citizens that just made a bad mistake."

Family members of inmates also took the stand on Friday, testifying that some inmates hadn't had access to GED programming and life skills classes.

Demetrius Gatson is a woman who has seen both sides of corrections, she served time in York and now she works with RISE- a re-entry program for inmates in Nebraska. She says for her, re-entry was exactly what she needed to get out and stay out of prison.

Gatson served a longer sentence and wasn't presented with re-entry programming until the end of her sentence. Re-entry programming provides inmates with access to GED classes, life skill classes and could even help inmates with substance abuse. But short staffing means Nebraska Corrections has to prioritize which inmates will get programming and usually it's those closest to their release.

"Each plan may look different but re-entry is for everyone, everyone that has ever been incarcerated, they need re-entry," said Gatson. "They need someone that is going to follow them through the system, someone that is going to show them how to reintegrate. Especially people that have been locked down for a really long time. They just need to learn how to navigate, even use a smart phone."

Now Gatson's son is serving time in the Nebraska State Penitentiary and she says he hasn't received any kind of programming. Gatson says consistency in re-entry programs will make the difference for Nebraska Correctional Facilities.

Up next for NDCS, rounds of debates between lawmakers to see what kind of policy change can be implemented inside NDCS as well as in Nebraska state law.