LINCOLN — A second, surprise search of the troubled State Penitentiary — a search officials said was “always part of a bigger plan” — found more smuggled drugs and homemade weapons Wednesday.

Corrections officials had been criticized in a state watchdog’s report earlier this week for not searching every housing unit during an unprecedented three-day lockdown and search of the State Pen two weeks ago.

But State Corrections Director Scott Frakes said, in a press release, that Wednesday’s “first-of-its-kind” operation — which included personnel from the Nebraska State Patrol and the Lincoln Police Department — was “weeks” in the planning and had always been a part of the plan to rid the state’s largest prison of contraband.

“This was a completely strategic operation and well thought out,” Frakes said. “The inspector general (for corrections) has been critical over the last few days, implying that the search of the penitentiary on Sept. 4th was incomplete. Today’s larger operation was always part of a bigger plan.”

The exact amount of contraband seized was not detailed. About 100 extra personnel, including about 40 state troopers and Lincoln police and specially trained K-9 dogs from an outside organization, participated, entering the prison about 6 a.m.

“I said we would be taking a no-holds-barred approach, and I was serious,” Frakes said.

On Monday, the State Legislature’s inspector general for corrections, Doug Koebernick, released his annual report on the state of state prisons. A portion of the 270-page report was critical of corrections for locking down the State Penitentiary for three days to search for contraband, and then failing to search every housing unit. It was a concern that was raised by prison staff, according to Koebernick.

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On Wednesday, Frakes again declined to say whether the entire State Pen had been searched. Last week, officials said they would not discuss the extent of the searches for security reasons.

“Revealing information about how the searches were conducted or the technology used would be counterintuitive,” Frakes said Wednesday. “I want to be able to rely on these resources again.”

The State Penitentiary holds about 1,300 inmates, roughly double its design capacity, and has been described by Koebernick as the state’s most troubled prison.

It has seen an increase in the number of assaults on staff and the amount of contraband cellphones, weapons and drugs — including the synthetic marijuana K2 — in recent weeks, which prompted the lockdown and search operation Sept. 4-6. Staff shortages at the State Pen have forced the cancellation of visitation hours, and forced the facility to shut down the gym and law library on occasion, which has prompted complaints from inmates.

The inspector general’s report said that the State Pen required the most overtime hours of any state prison in order to fill vacant posts there, and had the most vacancies among security staff.

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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