Nebraska State Penitentiary sweep turns up enough drugs & weapons

LINCOLN — A recent sweep by authorities at the Nebraska State Penitentiary has triggered a criminal investigation after turning up illegal drugs, alcohol, weapons and a smartphone.

Scott Frakes, director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, declined to reveal the scope of the investigation by the Nebraska State Patrol. Nor would he identify the type of illegal drugs found, saying only that the amount discovered was “unusual” and “significant.”

“The quantity is big enough it might be able to supply several distributors,” Frakes said.

The search operation comes at a time when the prison system has seen a 37 percent spike in the number of intoxicant-abuse violations over the past year. Most of the increase has been driven by the discovery of homemade alcohol at the Tecumseh State Prison, but the State Penitentiary in Lincoln also has seen a 5.5 percent increase in drug and alcohol offenses.

In June, an overdose of methamphetamine and Ecstasy killed a 22-year-old Omaha man serving time for robbery at the Tecumseh prison.

Frakes said he is hopeful that the investigation at the State Penitentiary will result in the filing of criminal charges. Cody Thomas, spokesman for the patrol, would say only that the investigation is ongoing.

About 65 corrections staff who are members of “special teams” participated in the sweep from Aug. 29 to Sept. 1. The search started in an inmate’s cell, where staff members found drugs, the cellphone and three knifelike weapons.

The contraband was hidden in a space between an exterior and interior window of the cell. The inmate had managed to loosen the riveted steel frame of the interior window, providing a hiding space authorities had not seen used before. The discovery prompted prison officials to check similar windows in the prison, Frakes said.

An “organized and intense search” then moved to the prison’s large workshop area, a place the inmate and his associates had access to, Frakes said.

The shop search produced another weapon and 1½ gallons of homemade alcohol. In addition, authorities found a sawhorse that had been modified with a hidden compartment.

“We didn’t find anything else that was as significant as what was found in the cell,” Frakes said. “But any time you recover a weapon, it’s significant.”

The mobile phone is the 15th found at the penitentiary this year, said Dawn-Renee Smith, spokeswoman for the Corrections Department. A total of eight additional phones have been recovered at other prisons, she said.

Frakes credited his staff for developing the intelligence that led to the search. Over the past two years, the department has worked to better coordinate the intelligence-gathering activities at the state’s 10 prison facilities to better detect contraband.

He said practically any drug that can be purchased on the street can turn up in the state’s prisons. He called meth and synthetic marijuana, commonly called K2, some of the most troubling substances because they can produce unpredictable and violent behavior among inmates.

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