It’s disturbing that a prisoner at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women near York bashed a fellow inmate’s face and broke her arm by swinging a lock in a sock.

Even more disturbing is that institutional carelessness apparently enabled the assault. Sources told The World-Herald that murderer Erica Jenkins walloped a cousin who had testified against her.

The damage inflicted could very well extend beyond what Christine Bordeaux suffered. The Sept. 24 assault, as Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine points out, creates a potential chilling effect on witnesses who agree to testify as part of plea deals in major crimes.

“It’s frustrating when you have somebody who did the right thing, came forward,” Kleine told The World-Herald. “Then they let the bad guy have access to that person.”

The state prison system, through action or inaction, simply cannot give the accused a chance at revenge. Separating inmates who can’t mix is Prison Management 101.

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services has declined to comment about the alleged assault, saying state law prohibits the prisons from publicly discussing specific inmate conduct.

But given the potential for similar circumstances to endanger future criminal prosecutions, York Warden Denise Skrobecki and Corrections Director Scott Frakes should publicly address how the system will avoid making similar mistakes.

Corrections is already facing a full plate of problems that officials need to resolve, including sentence calculation errors, staffing shortages, prison crowding and an increased number of assaults on staff. Here’s another black mark on the prison system when it’s trying to rebound.

Among the questions that need answering:

» What happened that enabled the accused and her accuser to be in the same space together?

» Why wasn’t there better supervision?

» How many prisoners systemwide are in similar circumstances and need protection?

» How are they being protected? And does more need to be done?

Jenkins, 26, has a history of assaults during confinement: She has already been convicted of three assaults behind bars.

She is serving a life term for the August 2013 shooting death of Curtis Bradford. She and her brother, Nikko, lured Bradford out by saying they would commit a robbery together.

Bordeaux, 42, was convicted of criminal conspiracy and attempted robbery from another of Nikko Jenkins’ four Omaha murders. She testified against Erica Jenkins, who was convicted of two robberies, and agreed to testify against Nikko.

The York prison is Nebraska’s only women’s prison. If the state can’t make sure Erica Jenkins and Bordeaux stay apart, officials might need to transfer one of the two out of state.

It is a sensible, basic expectation for the state to keep its inmates safe.

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