6 inmates allege prison center overcrowding in court filing against Nebraska department

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LINCOLN, Nebraska — Six inmates have asked a district court to exempt them paying a fee before filing a lawsuit against the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, in which they say they had to sleep on floors and wait more than an hour to use bathrooms because of overcrowding.

It's the second legal action filed by inmates in the past year that alleges overcrowding.

Last week's filing in Lancaster County District Court says the state Diagnostic & Evaluation Center in Lincoln exceeded its design capacity by more than 298 percent as of April 30, the Lincoln Journal Star reported (http://bit.ly/1iFrK9B ). The state website says the center opened in August 1979 as a 176-bed, maximum custody, reception, diagnostic, evaluation, assessment, classification and assignment facility.

The Correctional Services Department doesn't comment on pending litigation, spokesman James Foster said Wednesday.

Inmates Michael Sather, Dustin Krogman, Wayne Saul Jr., Dylan Aufdengarten, Edward Bean and Jason Spencer are listed on the filing. Sather says overcrowding, unclean conditions, noise and limited bathroom access are causing prisoners mental and physical ailments. He says he had to share two toilets with about 20 inmates and two showers with about 50 inmates.

The other five inmates report similar problems, including having to sleep on floors while waiting for beds to become available.

The six men are asking only for a hearing date and any damages or relief "the court deems necessary under the circumstances." Court records don't list a hearing date or say when a judge might rule on the inmates' request.

In November two other inmates sued the department, alleging that overcrowding at the Tecumseh prison in southeast Nebraska had caused them emotional distress. Dukhan Mumin and Khalid Muhammad say the department's director, Michael Kenney, and other officials have failed in their duty by allowing such conditions to exist.

The state government has begun looking at ways to reduce prison overcrowding and costs while maintaining public safety.

Lawmakers this year established a 19-member working group to find solutions, led by Gov. Dave Heineman, Speaker of the Legislature Greg Adams and Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican.

Nebraska's prisons housed 5,175 people as of May 31, placing the system at 158 percent of its operating capacity. Heineman and other state officials have said they want to avoid building a new state prison, which would cost about $150 million.

Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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