It was encouraging to see that Scott Frakes, the head of Nebraska’s state prison system, met recently with North Omaha residents to answer questions and receive feedback. Such outreach promotes needed communication and accountability.
Frakes has an immensely challenging job. At the same time, the difficulties of his work don’t remove his obligation, as the prison system CEO, to encourage prison operations that meet the full standard of proper treatment.
The session in North Omaha featured appropriate questions for him on issues including overcrowding, treatment options, solitary confinement and the blocking of some volunteer prison visitors and community organizations. It was good to see a Nebraska public official interacting with the public and responding to questions about complex issues.
Dialogue doesn’t automatically solve problems, but it does encourage improved understanding and gives public officials a better sense of Nebraskans’ concerns and priorities.
North Omaha is a majority-black part of our city. The most recent data indicate that black inmates made up 28.4% of Nebraska’s prison population in 2017; overall that year, African Americans accounted for 4.4% of the state’s population. Prison demographics will never exactly match a state’s overall makeup, but the figures highlight why Nebraska prison policy has particular significance among black Omahans.
Credit in helping arrange the North Omaha meeting goes to community advocate Preston Love Jr., and Jasmine Harris, director of advocacy and policy for RISE, a local organization that helps people exit prison and reenter regular life. Love and Harris recently met with Gov. Pete Ricketts, and plans for Frakes’ visit grew from their discussions. Another public meeting with Frakes is scheduled for March 14 at Omaha North High School.
Such public access is productive and valuable in facilitating community understanding and government accountability. All involved in this effort deserve a salute.