LINCOLN — Expert witnesses hired by the ACLU of Nebraska condemned conditions inside Nebraska’s prisons in court filings Tuesday as dangerous to inmates due to inadequate health care, “perpetual overcrowding” and understaffing.
The civil rights organization, which sued the State of Nebraska in August 2017, unveiled preliminary opinions from its experts in asking a federal judge to authorize the lawsuit as a class action for all of the 5,500 prison inmates incarcerated in Nebraska.
ACLU officials said that gaining class-action status would give them more leverage in their lawsuit and in possibly obtaining an out-of-court settlement.
State attorneys, in court filings, have denied assertions by the ACLU and the 10 inmates now named in the lawsuit that prison facilities are so overcrowded that they violate constitutional rights.
The ACLU’s lawsuit, which is still in the pretrial stage, alleges that inmates are subjected to cruel and unusual punishment due to inadequate health and mental health care, overuse of solitary confinement, and lack of adequate accommodations for handicapped inmates.
The ACLU experts maintained that overcrowding combined with inadequate staffing made conditions worse, by forcing the use of solitary confinement to maintain order, delaying needed mental health evaluations and treatment, and creating unsafe conditions for inmates.
Nebraska has the second-most overcrowded prison system in the country, housing about 2,100 more inmates than its design capacity. ACLU officials, in a press release, compared conditions to California where, in 2011, a federal court sided with the ACLU and ordered inmates to be released to ease crowded conditions.
Danielle Conrad, the director of ACLU of Nebraska, said Tuesday that the organization is still open to working with the state to improve conditions and avoid an expensive legal battle.