State senators criticize Corrections Director Scott Frakes for withholding report on deadly riot

State senators criticize Corrections Director Scott Frakes for withholding report on deadly riot
Scott Frakes RYAN SODERLIN/THE WORLD-HERALD

LINCOLN — State legislators still want more explanation of why a critical report about a deadly 2015 prison riot wasn’t released until last month.

After a three-hour hearing Tuesday, the chair of the meeting said that State Corrections Director Scott Frakes needs to provide more information when the State Legislature convenes next month.

“I think we’ve left a to-do list for the next committee,” said State Sen. Laura Ebke, who will leave the Legislature in January after losing her bid for re-election.

At the hearing, a handful of state legislators criticized Frakes for not publicly releasing the $20,000 consultants’ report on the Mother’s Day riot at the Tecumseh State Prison, a riot that left two inmates dead and caused $2 million in damage. A trio of authorities who testified also said there was no reason to withhold the report.

The 2015 riot was the state’s worst prison uprising in six decades.

Frakes, who could not testify at Tuesday’s meeting because of a vacation, said he withheld the report because it contained sensitive information about prison gangs that, if released, could threaten the safety of staff, inmates and the public.

But no one at Tuesday’s hearing supported that, including one of the co-authors of the riot study, Bert Useem, a Purdue University authority on prison riots.

Useem said he didn’t think the report should have been withheld, and State Ombudsman Marshall Lux said it appeared the document was withheld because it reflected poorly on the agency.

Brian Gage, a former warden at Tecumseh, also said he saw nothing sensitive about the 11-page report prepared by Useem and Dan Pacholke, a former State of Washington prison administrator.

Gage, now a community college instructor on criminal justice, said a discussion during the hearing about inmates’ use of smuggled cellphones involved more sensitive material than the report.

Pacholke said he is now a consultant to a security company that is monitoring inmate calls made by cellphones as part of a 90-day pilot project for Nebraska’s corrections department.

While one senator at Tuesday’s hearing, Bob Krist, of Omaha, renewed his call for Frakes to be fired, Pacholke, a former colleague in Washington, defended the director as “thoughtful and progressive.”

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