Nebraska prisons relax COVID-19 restrictions

(Lincoln, NE) -- COVID-19 restrictions for visitors and inmates will be relaxed at Nebraska prison facilities starting next week.

According to a media release from the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, they are about to implement, "some of the most significant operational changes since the start of COVID-19. Standards for visitors and volunteers will relax, as will parameters around social distancing and mandates that limited activities inside the state’s 10 facilities."

NDCS Director Scott R. Frakes says, “This is a huge step forward and one that is sure to be welcomed by staff members as well as inmates. We have been operating under limits for almost a year and a half. But now, we are in a good place to make this turn and re-initiate some of things we were doing pre-COVID.”

Prison leaders say it has been several weeks since any staff members or inmates haved tested positive for the coronavirus. Vaccinations continue to be provided to both inmates and staff members. Dir. Frakes said formal, organized vaccination efforts will end mid-June. “We have hosted multiple vaccination clinics in all of our facilities and associated buildings for our teammates as well as our inmates. We are now in our final push to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to those who want one. After that, we will offer vaccinations to newly admitted inmates and staff members who are newly hired.”

Effective Friday, May 21st, NDCS will expand the number of people allowed to visit at any given time to three individuals. Children of any age are also permitted. “Visitors will still need to pre-register on the NDCS website for a day and time slot, based on the facility they wish to visit, and there are still restrictions in place in terms of maintaining social distancing, limiting physical contact and not sharing food or drinks,” noted Dir. Frakes.

NDCS says volunteers will also be allowed to return in the coming week. Congregate worship and educational activities will also resume and community custody inmates will have the opportunity to visit family members and take part in other community activities.

“Participation in our Staff Training Academy will also transition to more normal operations. That includes increasing class sizes, resuming training activities requiring physical contact as well as allowing families to attend graduation exercises,” noted Dir. Frakes. "That includes increasing class sizes, resuming CPR and other physical activities as well as resuming graduation exercises,” noted Dir. Frakes.

Staff members and inmates are still expected to wear masks. Emphasis will also continue to be placed on maintaining three feet of social distancing and disinfecting practices. One thing that will end is the taking of temperatures upon entry to NDCS buildings. “Staff members and visitors will still be expected to self-assess their symptoms. They will sign a log upon entry by which they affirm that they don’t have a fever or any of the other symptoms associated with COVID-19,” said Dir. Frakes.

All of the upcoming changes are conditional on virus cases remaining low, within NDCS as well as in the community. “We will remain vigilant. If signs suddenly point to an uptick, we will change course accordingly,” said Dir. Frakes. “Our ability to keep people healthy, including those from the community who have contact with us, is paramount to our plan of action.”

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