LINCOLN — Inmates are returning to cells at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution as cleanup and repairs continue in the wake of a deadly riot last weekend.

The 1,000-inmate prison remains on lockdown except for a small number of “well-behaved” inmates who are assisting staff members with food service, laundry and janitorial work, according to James Foster, spokesman for the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers were told that inmates caused between $350,000 and $500,000 in damage during the violent takeover of two prison housing units, which began Sunday afternoon and wasn’t completely under control until Monday morning.

State Corrections Director Scott Frakes, during a meeting with a special legislative committee Thursday, also said that a lack of activities and programs at the prison probably were contributing factors to the uprising, which left two inmates dead and two guards and four inmates injured.

“It was just a lot of idle inmates in Tecumseh, due to a lack of programming,” said State Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha.

Frakes declined to comment after an hourlong, closed-door session with members of the Legislature’s Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee.

But senators at the meeting described it as productive and cooperative. They said it focused on staffing issues at the prison and plans.

“I have a lot more confidence in Frakes today,” said Hastings Sen. Les Seiler, chairman of the special committee.

At the meeting, Frakes said he would bring in a former corrections colleague from Washington State, Tomas Fithian, who has expertise on prison security and emergency response, to conduct a review of the riot.

The State Ombudsman’s Office also is to provide a report. Two members of that office, Jerall Moreland and James Davis, visited Tecumseh on Wednesday in an attempt to discover what prompted the riot at the state’s most secure prison.

They did not report at Thursday’s meeting, but their boss did say their inquiries prompted more questions than answers.

“When you look into something of this magnitude, you ask one question and it raises three more questions,” said State Ombudsman Marshall Lux.

Lux said that a lack of rehabilitation programs and prison jobs have long been issues at Tecumseh.

“If you have those things, you have a much more sedate and manageable facility,” he said.

Lux said that among the things his office hopes to discover is whether the riot was planned or spontaneous, what triggered it and whether sufficient staff was on duty.

The incident began when prison staff tried to break up a gathering of about 40 inmates in the yard. A corrections officer and caseworker were assaulted. Then an inmate was shot in the leg by a tower guard.

Thursday evening, the Tecumseh inmates were to receive their first hot meal since the rampage.

Inmates were being fed two meals a day in their cells, Foster said. The 3,000 calories per day is “well in excess of the daily requirements for an active adult male,” he said in an email.

Foster said that by Thursday, all inmates should have been given access to showers and telephones.

Medical staff members are making daily rounds through the living units, medication is being delivered and any emergent medical needs are being addressed promptly, Foster said.

Mail is being delivered and sent out each day.

The criminal investigation continues.

One gallery of 32 cells remains an active crime scene and cannot be used for housing for now. The rest of the prison is operational, he said.

Staff throughout the agency have done an exceptional job of responding to the emergency and are working toward a safe resumption of prison operations, Foster said.

Prison officials at first gave only a partial estimate of damage to surveillance cameras, between $30,000 and $50,000.

Inmates also tore down walls, broke windows, and set chairs and mattresses ablaze during the rampage. About 128 inmates were displaced.

Seiler said he took the rare step of closing Thursday’s meeting with Frakes to the press and public to avoid jeopardizing the criminal investigation into the two deaths.

But after the meeting Seiler said that the status of the criminal probes was not discussed.

Contact the writers: 402-473-9587, joe.duggan@owh.com, 402-473-9584, paul.hammel@owh.com

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