Report calls for changes to Nebraska solitary confinement, discharge practices

Prison Conditions Need Improvement
Prison Conditions Need Improvement

Disability Rights Nebraska released a new report November 26, examining the impacts on people with disabilities from solitary confinement practices, poor mental health treatment in prisons, inadequate reentry and discharge planning, and lack of health care and other community supports upon returning to society.

“Navigating a successful transition is often uniquely difficult for former inmates with mental illness, especially without assistance in preparing for their release and figuring out what services are needed or how to access those services,” the report stated. “Assisting inmates with mental illness with reentry planning (long-term, admissions) and discharge planning (short-term imminent release) is a key component of a successful transition from corrections to the community.”

The 25-page report details a variety of existing studies, as well as provides original research relating to concerns with Nebraska’s penal system. Specifically, it criticizes the practice of solitary confinement, which involves keeping inmates in isolation for long periods of time, often for as much as 23 hours per day.

In addition to exacerbating the inmates’ mental health conditions, the report argues that these conditions increase the likelihood that they will inflict self harm.

In regard to reentry and discharge planning, the report criticizes the state for spending insufficient resources and failing to create a clearinghouse to document information on such programs. Upon reentry, the report notes that the vast majority of inmates lack health insurance, a problem that would be partially cured if the state stopped its practice of cutting off Medicaid benefits upon incarceration.

The report comes one day after a state legislative panel held hearings on ways to improve the state’s prison system and mental health services, without endangering public safety.

The panel is tasked with investigating the case of Nikko Jenkins, a former inmate with mental illness who killed four people in Omaha in 2013 within days of being released by a state prison, according to the Omaha World Herald.

“Releasing an inmate without adequate discharge planning is like saying, ‘Good luck — we will see you again,’ ” said Brad Meurrens, a public policy specialist for Disability Rights Nebraska and co-author of the report, told the Omaha World Herald.

Disability Rights Nebraska and Disability Rights Washington, which operates this Galaxy website, are part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and members of the National Disability Rights Network.