(Lincoln, NE) -- The Nebraska State Penitentiary will return to a normal operational schedule in July. It will be there first time the prison has been on a normal schedule in nearly three years.
On Wednesday, Nebraska Department of Correctional Services Director Scott Frakes announced that NSP would be moving away from its modified, seven-day, 12-hour operational schedule on July 18th. The prison has been on the modified schedule since October 2019, when an emergency staffing declaration was made.
“This is a result of the hiring we have done, not just at NSP, but across the agency since December.” said Dir. Frakes. “To date, we have onboarded 472 teammates in a variety of job classifications. Of those, 410 are in protective service positions. At the penitentiary, we had 76 vacant protective service positions in December. Today, that number has dropped to just 18 vacancies.”
“Going to emergency staffing was our best option for dealing with the staffing shortage, but it was always our intent to fill the vacancies and return to normal operations,” continued Dir. Frakes. “Admittedly, it lasted longer than anticipated, but throughout the pandemic, the schedule served us well while dealing with the challenges brought by COVID.” Frakes said pay increases implemented for represented staff members last year were a game changer, not only in terms of recruiting, but also retaining teammates. “In particular, the negotiations involving the Fraternal Order of Police and the Department of Administrative Services certainly altered the trajectory for us as an agency when it came to hiring.”
“Of all team members hired so far, 231 are from 38 other states. We also have more than 40 people signed up for our new employee training program that will start next week, including several corporals who will be stationed at NSP.” NDCS says over the coming weeks, staff members in protective service positions will place bids for the posts they wish to work – a process outlined in the union contract. Thirty-four of those positions will remain on 12-hour shifts permanently at NSP. “One of the lessons learned while on a modified schedule was the benefit of having key posts remain at 12 hours. That will allow for crossover between shifts, elevating the continuity of operations at that facility.”
Returning to a 16-hour operational day means four more hours a day for volunteer programs, recreation and other prosocial activities. “All things that contribute to higher satisfaction and a better quality of life for the inmate population,” noted Dir. Frakes. He said the resumption of a normal schedule will also benefit staff members. “Those in protective services have been working 12-hour shifts for more than two and a half years, plus overtime. Among staff members hired during that same time at NSP, a 12-hour schedule is the only one they have known. This will be an adjustment, but returning to a 40-hour work week will improve the work-life balance for team members, which is equally important.”
Two other facilities – the Reception and Treatment Center (RTC) and the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution (TSCI) – remain on modified schedules. Frakes said the plan is to take RTC from a four-day work schedule to seven days sometime this summer, with the caveat it will probably remain on emergency staffing for a while longer. “Each facility has its own unique characteristics, in terms of the populations they serve, staff positions, activities, physical layout and more. As such, the return to normal operations will ultimately be different for each one,” explained Dir. Frakes.
The latest vacancy report for the agency shows 167 open protective service positions. In October last year the high was 427 positions. Turnover was also down in January, February, March and April, compared to last year. “In addition to pay increases, we continue to offer hiring bonuses,” said Dir. Frakes. “For those who are thinking about making the move to a career in corrections, the additional $15,000 is further incentive. When you add to that the stipend for moving expenses, a commuter bonus, tuition reimbursement and other state benefits, there are plenty of reasons people should consider NDCS a great place to build a future.”