NDCS Frequently Asked Questions

NDCS Frequently Asked Questions

What steps has NDCS taken to prepare for COVID-19?

NDCS began preparations in December 2019 when it became apparent the state was in for a nastier than usual flu season. Steps were undertaken to inventory and restock supplies of masks, toilet tissue, disinfectant, hand sanitizer and other items used by staff members and inmates. While the agency did experience an uptick in flu, the situation was well-managed due to reliance on the same universal health precautions that have been emphasized for preventing COVID-19:

  • Avoiding close contact with sick people and staying home if you are sick.
  • Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze then throw the tissue in the trash, or cough into your sleeve.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Since the arrival of COVID-19 in Nebraska, agency leadership has engaged in daily briefings with facility wardens to ensure that concerns and needs are addressed in a timely manner. NDCS has also created a COVID-19 response plan that follows the guidance issued by local, state and national health authorities, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That document continues to evolve, based on the latest medical advice and accepted standards for dealing with coronavirus.

 

ARE NDCS FACILITIES ON LOCKDOWN?

No. While some activities and meetings have been canceled, others are being modified to meet the requirement that only 10 people occupy a single space in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

 

ARE THERE ANY COVID-19 CASES IN NDCS?

Positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported within certain facilities. For more information, go to NDCS News Releases here.

 

 ARE INMATES ALLOWED TO HAVE VISITORS?

NDCS has suspended inmate visitation indefinitely at all facilities. Tours and other group visits/activities have also been suspended. We hope that by taking this precaution we are able to reduce the risk of transmission to staff members and inmates as well as reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to members of the public.

NDCS is currently permitting attorneys to visit their clients. They will be administered a screening questionnaire before they are allowed to enter. Attorneys have been asked to find alternative ways to communicate with their clients that would avoid face-to-face contact, including phone calls and email.

 

WHILE INMATE VISITATION IS CLOSED, HOW CAN INMATES COMMUNICATE WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS?

Telephone call time has been extended to two hours per day for everyone. For more information on GTL phone calls, click here.

NDCS is exploring technology options for video visitation, but that could take several months to implement. The vendor is working to accomplish the same thing with other correctional systems, and it will take some time to work through all requests.

Families/friends of inmates can send video grams to individuals in NDCS facilities.

NDCS continues to accept and send mail in and out of its facilities through the U.S. Postal Service.

 

ARE FAMILY FURLOUGHS, FOOD DELIVERIES AND DELIVERING PROPERTY TO INMATES AT THE COMMUNITY CENTERS STILL ALLOWED?

To protect everyone involved, family furloughs are currently suspended. Food deliveries to the facilities are discontinued. Outside property will no longer be accepted from families/friends at the facility to limit the transmission of COVID-19.

 

WHAT IS THE STATUS OF VOLUNTEERS?

For the most part, volunteers are prohibited entry to NDCS facilities. We are allowing a limited number of contract and grant-based organizations to come into NDCS facilities. Individuals associated with those organizations have been asked to self-assess to ensure they are symptom free before entering our buildings. They, as well as contractors, vendors and others who enter NDCS facilities will be screened at check-in.

 

DOES THIS AFFECT INMATE ACTIVITIES OR OTHER GATHERINGS?

Wardens are working with staff to implement limits for inmate gatherings. Some areas in facilities will allow for gatherings of larger groups of people, like external yards. Even in those spaces, people have been asked to maintain social distancing.

 

HOW ARE STAFF MEMBERS BEING SCREENED WHEN THEY COME TO WORK?

NDCS staff are conducting temperature checks on all individuals entering NDCS facilities. In addition, everyone must answer a series of screening questions aimed at determining potential exposure to someone with COVID-19, recent travel, and a list of related symptoms.

Individuals who respond in the affirmative to the screening questions or have a temperature reading of 100° or higher will not be permitted inside the facility/building without the approval of a designated supervisor.

Masks are also required for anyone entering an NDCS building.

 

WHAT IF NDCS STAFF MEMBERS ARE ILL?

Any staff member who tests positive for COVID-19 is required to call 402-314-7129 within an hour of receiving notification of the result. A member of the NDCS Human Resources team will follow up, as a means to identify any close contacts the person has had in the previous 72 hours. That would include staff members, as well as inmates.  Depending on the outcome of the contact investigation, notifications will be made to the appropriate staff and inmates where the individual is employed. The name of the affected employee will not be released and staff members are directed to respect the medical privacy of any staff members who are under quarantine.

Staff members who are ill, but do not have a positive test result should report their absence to their immediate supervisor. Depending on the nature of the illness and the reported symptoms, staff members may be required to stay home for a period of time.

Staff members who have been quarantined are required to receive medical clearance, prior to returning to work.

 

What is defined as close contact when determining if a staff member has been exposed to someone with COVID-19?

That means that in the previous 72 hours you have:

  • Been less than six feet from someone diagnosed with COVID-19 for 10 or more minutes without wearing proper PPE’s​
  • Been in direct contact with secretions from a person diagnosed with COVID-19 without wearing proper PPE’s.

 

WHAT ABOUT CHILDCARE ISSUES FOR STAFF?

Staff members who are dealing with childcare issues should notify their supervisor. There are a variety of options that may be utilized for managing those situations depending on the circumstances. Facility human resource representatives can provide additional information to staff members who have questions.

 

ARE PEOPLE ON WORK DETAIL AND WORK RELEASE ALLOWED TO CONTINUE THEIR JOBS?

Yes. Those employment opportunities will continue, as long as the employer remains open for business.

 

HOW OFTEN IS CLEANING HAPPENING INSIDE THE FACILITIES?

Staff members and inmates have been directed to engage in frequent cleaning as one of the primary means to preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Cleaning supplies are readily available throughout facilities and housing units. In addition, staff are disinfecting transportation vehicles after each trip.

 

DO INMATES HAVE ACCESS TO SOAP AND/OR HAND SANITIZER?

Inmates are being provided free bars of soap, in order to facilitate more frequent hand washing. Because of the alcohol content in hand sanitizer, we do not provide that product to inmates.

 

HOW ARE PAROLE HEARINGS BEING HANDLED IN EACH OF THE FACILITIES?

The Board of Parole has issued guidelines pertaining to hearings. Modifications have been made to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The complete list of procedures can be found here.

 

WHAT INFORMATION HAS BEEN SHARED WITH INMATES, STAFF MEMBERS AND THE PUBLIC?

NDCS has continued to employ a variety of communication methods, to distribute information to inmates, staff members and the public. Relevant news releases have been posted on the website, as well as distributed to the media. Inmates and staff members continue to get updates from staff medical experts and Director Scott R. Frakes about steps that the agency is taking to manage the virus. In addition, the director has also created video messages that have been shared on a variety of platforms, including social media. The website (corrections.nebraska.gov) is a good resource for finding the latest information.

In addition to information provided at the agency level, wardens also provide regular communication to their staff members and their inmate populations.

 

WHAT IF COVID-19 BECOMES WIDESPREAD? HOW WILL THE AGENCY MANAGE IT?

The primary goal in dealing with this illness is to “flatten” out the spread and thereby, reduce a potential spike in cases, which could be detrimental to available resources. Another chief concern are those members of the population who fall into high risk categories, because of their age or underlying health conditions, which makes them more vulnerable to coronavirus. This was one of the primary reasons for suspending visitation to our 10 facilities.

Facilities have identified spaces within their facilities for managing individuals who are on quarantine status or require medical isolation. The agency has the medical resources to manage individuals who have symptoms that do not require an outside hospital. Individuals who require a higher degree of medical assistance will be transported to a community hospital for assessment and treatment.

NDCS, like other Nebraska state agencies, has worked diligently to reinforce its continuity of operations plan for maintaining critical functions of the department. Additionally, the agency has other policies and guidelines that address emergencies and medical situations. We also work closely with state agencies like NEMA, DHHS, DAS and others to ensure a coordinated and effective response in managing the coronavirus.  

 

WILL INDIVIDUALS BE RELEASED EARLY DUE TO CORONAVIRUS?

Individuals committed to NDCS have a legal obligation to fulfill the entirety of their felony sentences. There are no plans to release inmates early due to illness.

 

HOW IS NDCS HANDLING THE FEDERAL EXPANSION OF THE FAMILY MEDICAL LEAVE ACT (FMLA) FAMILIES FIRST CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE ACT?

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act allows additional leave time for employees not eligible to work remotely, but includes exemptions for emergency responders and health care workers.  Corrections teammates are included in that exemption definition and therefore, we have made the decision that our entire agency will not be eligible for this additional leave. With this announcement, NDCS will continue to grant leave requests by its current policy.  If needed, NDCS will advance leave.  

 

Are inmates being tested for COVID-19?

Anyone who exhibits signs and symptoms for COVID-19 will be referred to a medical provider who will evaluate the individual to determine if additional diagnostic testing is warranted. Depending on the level of exposure or the confirmation of COVID-19, the individual could be placed on quarantine status or medical isolation.

Precautions will be undertaken to ensure the proper care of individuals who are sick, as well as to maintain the health and well-being of staff who are in contact with them. This includes requiring the use of PPE by staff members, utilization of masks, delivery of meals and medications to and from cells, exclusion from group activities and maintaining quarantine/isolation status until the person is cleared by a medical provider.

 

What about inmates coming from jails?

All new admissions (new commits, safe keepers, parole/PRS violators) to NDCS reception facilities shall be on quarantine status for a minimum of 14 days.  

 

What precautions are being taken with staff members to ensure they do not become sick?

Staff members are asked to self-assess their symptoms prior to entering any NDCS building. In addition, they undergo a temperature screening and must answer a series of questions aimed at identifying their risk for symptoms. All NDCS staff members are expected to wear a procedure mask during their shifts. This can include a personal mask from home or one that has been issued through NDCS.

Staff members have been directed to undergo training for proper donning and doffing of personal protective equipment (PPE). They are expected to wear this equipment anytime they are in contact with someone who is symptomatic or case-positive. 

Hand sanitizer has been distributed to all staff members for their use during work. They are also encouraged to closely adhere to universal health precautions.

 

What precautions are being taken with inmates to ensure they do not become sick?

Incarcerated men and women receive free bars of soap. They have been issued procedure masks, and are required to wear masks anytime they are outside of their cells and on facility grounds. Those who live in a dorm setting should wear their masks anytime they are away from their bunk. Masks are also required during recreation and exercise.

Community custody inmates should wear their masks going to and from their jobs in the community. If allowed, they can wear their masks at their place of employment. Those working on detail crews are expected to wear their masks during transportation and on the job.

Individuals at greater risk for coronavirus due to age and health-related conditions are being managed more closely at this time to ensure that exposure to other inmates and staff is limited.  

 

Updated 4/28/2020