Nebraska inmates sue state over overcrowded prison

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - More than two dozen Nebraska inmates who have spent time at an overcrowded Lincoln prison are suing the state prison system and its director, alleging conditions at the prison violate their civil rights.

Two separate lawsuits were filed in U.S. District Court in Lincoln on Tuesday, the Lincoln Journal Star reported (http://bit.ly/1K0XUYa ). One lawsuit is by a group of a dozen inmates and the other is by a group of 17 inmates seeking class-action status. Both groups are suing over conditions at the Diagnostic & Evaluation Center in Lincoln.

All men sentenced to prison start their time at the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center, where they are evaluated before being sent to the state’s other prisons to finish out their sentences.

The Lincoln prison was at 335 percent of capacity at the end of April, according to the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services website.

Reaching 140 percent of capacity triggers a report to the governor, who can declare an emergency. Neither former Gov. Dave Heineman nor current Gov. Pete Ricketts has done so. The level also can be a benchmark federal judges use to order construction of new cells.

Andre Pare, one of the inmates suing, said the overcrowding leads to the spread of airborne disease and has put a strain on medical staff.

He said he contracted staph pneumonia when he was there in August 2013. He is at the Community Corrections Center-Lincoln now.

Pare said in the lawsuit that in one housing unit, 22 inmates sleep on the floor of the cell block around insects and rodents and by trash cans, and that food is served 10 feet from the toilet.

There are two toilets for 54 inmates per cell block, Pare’s lawsuit says.

Both lawsuits seek a preliminary injunction finding prison administrators are violating the inmates’ constitutional rights and order the state to temporarily stop accepting new inmates at the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center until a court-mediator investigates.

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