Six sites in Lancaster, Douglas and Dodge counties are being looked at for the possible location of a new Nebraska state prison, the head of the system announced Friday afternoon.
The new 1,512-bed prison would replace the aging Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln.
The exact locations were not disclosed as negotiations are initiated with property owners, according to a news release issued Friday afternoon by the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services.
“The top criteria in evaluating all available sites has been proximity to a population center to support staffing. The ones selected so far fit that bill," Scott Frakes, director of the state's prison system, said in the release.
Additional property owners could initiate offers, according to the release.
The approximate size of the site would be 160 acres.
“We have looked at parcels smaller than that, but ultimately, it cannot be less than 100 acres. The land would need to include a buffer zone separating it from surrounding developed or undeveloped property,” Frakes said.
Additional criteria included distance to utility systems, hospital and emergency services, community services, road access and terrain, according to the release.
Nebraska's prison system has been plagued with overcrowding and staffing shortages in recent years.
The new prison, which had been expected to cost $236 million, was proposed by Gov. Pete Ricketts in 2020.
An engineering study, also released Friday, found that the State Penitentiary in Lincoln would need $220 million in upgrades.
The penitentiary first opened in 1869, according to the Corrections website. It has undergone multiple updates over the years.
The condition of the aging facility came into the spotlight earlier this year when leaking pipes forced officials to shut off running water to the penitentiary for nearly two days.
Lawmakers earlier this year approved a budget compromise that put nearly $15 million toward design and planning for a new facility. The compromise required an engineering study of the penitentiary to assess its useful life.
Initially, part of Frakes’ proposal for a new prison included repurposing the penitentiary as a minimum-security facility. But he has shifted to talking about the new prison as a replacement. A key driver, he has said, is a data-driven initiative underway that could result in legislation that curbs population growth.
"Numerous consultants had a hand in evaluating the various components of (the state penitentiary). They looked at when things were built and upgraded, if they were ADA-compliant, the age and status of the utilities, technology and security systems,” Frakes said.
Frakes formally proposed building a new prison late in 2020. Unlike Nebraska’s newest state prison, which opened in the rural community of Tecumseh in 2011, the new facility would need to be in an area with a large enough population to staff the new facility, he said at the time, which pointed to Lincoln and Omaha as potential locations.
It also opened the door to communities between the two cities. Local officials in Waverly, Ashland and Wahoo said in October 2020 that Corrections staff had contacted them to gauge interest in hosting a new prison.
Responses were tepid.
Waverly’s then-mayor, Mike Werner, expressed some doubt that his community, which sits just outside Lincoln in Lancaster County, would support the facility.