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Michael L. Kenney, Director

Michael L. Kenney, Director

Appointed: September 25, 2013

Nebraska Dept. of Correctional Services
P.O. Box 94661
Lincoln, NE 68509-4661
(402) 471-2654

ProgramsFamilies & Friends Public Interest

Historical Timeline of Corrections in Nebraska

 

1856

The first act of the Nebraska Territory concerning establishment of a penitentiary was to name a Board of Commissioners to locate a prison in the town of Tekamah in Burt County; however, no action was taken.

 

1859

The Territorial Legislature decreed that convicts should be kept in county jails until a territorial penitentiary could be built.

 

1860

The Territory explored the possibility of housing Nebraska inmates in already-established prisons in other states. There is no record that this was ever accomplished.

 

1860-1864

The Territory made several attempts to receive appropriations from the US Congress to construct a penitentiary without apparent success, which may have been due to the Civil War consuming the attentions of the national government.

 

1867

The Territorial Legislature again provided for the confinement of state prisoners in county jails, paying jailers 50 cents a day for boarding each prisoner.

 

1869

The first state prisoner was Jose Hernandez #1 who was housed in a county facility until a state facility was available to house him.

Jose Hernandez

 

1870

Land was appropriated in the Township of Lancaster south of Lincoln, the state capital, to construct a temporary prison, which was a barn-like structure that survived into the 20th century. The first inmates were received at the temporary prison on February 1, 1871. In addition to permanent fixtures and bedding, they were allowed to have a Holy Bible and a Catholic Prayer Book. Inmates were attired in prison stripes.

Temporary Prison

 

1875

A mutiny broke out at the prison in January with Warden William Woodhurst, the Deputy Warden and other staff being taken hostage. The Warden’s wife managed to convince the rioters to surrender. A second riot occurred in May of 1875 lead by the same convict who had started the first one. He was shot to death during the riot and the disturbance ended.

 

1876

The first “modern” prison structure, the West Cell House, was completed. It continued in service until 1980.

West Cell House West Cell House

 

1881

A small three-story stone “jail” within the prison was built to hold inmates sentenced to solitary confinement.

solitary confinement

 

1881

In July 1881, what was to become the State Reform School for Juvenile Offenders received its first offenders. Males and females were housed in this facility.

State Reform School for Juvenile Offenders

 

1880’s

Nebraska inmates were employed through a private contract to help construct the state capitol building in Lincoln.

The Nebraska State Penitentiary accepted inmates from Colorado and Wyoming Territory along with those from the Federal Government. A separate inmate numbering system was utilized.

 

1886

The first industries shops were constructed in a large brick building and included a tailor shop, shoe shop, furniture factory, laundry, paint shop, tobacco shop, broom factory and a cannery.

first industries shops

 

1890’s

The East Cell Block was constructed which contained both single and multiple occupancy cells. It continued in use until 1980.

East Cell Block

 

1892

The State Reform School becomes an all male facility with the opening of the female youth facility in Geneva, Nebraska.

 

1901

The Penitentiary came under the supervision of the State Board of Charities and Corrections.

 

1902

Four female prisoners were admitted to the Penitentiary. They were housed on the third floor of the Administration Building which was located between the West and East Cell houses and were supervised by the Warden’s wife.

 

1903

Gottlieb Neigenfind #3980 was the first Nebraska prisoner to be executed. He was hanged for a murder in Pierce County Nebraska.

Gottlieb Neigenfind

 

1912

In February, Penitentiary Deputy Warden Davis was stabbed to death by inmate Albert Prince in the chapel.  He was sentenced to death and was the last inmate to be hanged in Nebraska.

Albert Prince

 

1912

On March 14, 1912, three inmates, led by “Shorty” Grey, escaped from the prison after killing Warden James Delahunty, newly-appointed Deputy Warden Henry Wagner and an officer. The escapees fled toward Omaha where they killed a farmer near Gretna Nebraska. Grey and one of the accomplices were killed and the third was captured. He was pardoned after 40 years.

Charles Taylor (aka “Shorty Gray”) #5762 John Dowd #5873 Charles Morley # 5939 (He had an earlier number #5569 as well)

Bathing facilities for the inmates during the early years consisted of old bath tubs that were less than hygienic. Dining services and the “hospital” were also very inadequate even by the standards of the day.

 

1912

The Penitentiary came under the authority of the Board of Commissioners of State Institutions.

 

1913

It was determined that about 100 inmates were addicted to morphine and other opiates. It was believed that the drugs were brought into the prison by “unscrupulous employees and contractors.”

 

1919

The Department of Public Welfare was created to provide oversight to corrections (along with horse-racing and boxing).

 

1920

First execution by electrocution. The previous method of execution was by hanging.

Electric Chair

 

1920

The Reformatory for Women (now called the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women) was opened in York, Nebraska.

Reformatory for WomenReformatory for Women

 

1920

The Nebraska Board of Control assumed jurisdiction over the Penitentiary.

 

1921

The State Reformatory for young offenders was opened in the grounds of an older military academy in Lincoln. It later became the Lincoln Correctional Center.

State Reformatory for young offenders State Reformatory for young offenders

 

1923

The prison population was 556 males and 11 females.

 

1926

A new power plant was constructed on Penitentiary grounds which continued in use until the late 1970s.

new power plant

 

1931

The Penitentiary chapel was completed. It continues in use today as the facility “religious center.”

Penitentiary chapel

 

1940

A new Front Entrance building was opened which continued in use until 1980.

Front Entrance building

 

1942

The prisons were challenged by staff shortages caused by employees being called up for military service or obtaining more lucrative jobs in defense plants.

Prison industries shops made articles of clothing for the Army and the Navy.

Salaries for prison officers during the war years were $100 a month for “Wall Guards” (now called tower officers) and between $125-$145 per month for other correctional staff.

Agricultural operations formed an important component of the prison during these years. A first class dairy operation with a prime herd of cows provided milk and other dairy products to the institutions. This program was discontinued in late 1973.

The facilities also ran a poultry operation along with hog raising and grain crops.

cows pigs

 

1948

The industries shops at the Penitentiary were partially destroyed by fire. These building were replaced by a new industries plant that continued in use until the riot of 1955.

The industries shops at the Penitentiary were partially destroyed by fire

 

1949

A new Central Laundry building was constructed at the Penitentiary which was remodeled in 2006 and continues in use today.

Central Laundry building

 

1954

The “Trusty Dormitory” at NSP, a minimum security open bay dorm, was opened. It continues in use as a residential substance abuse treatment center today.

Trusty Dormitory

 

1955

On August 16, 1955, inmates rioted at the Penitentiary due to a variety of grievances including poor food and “sadistic” employees. The rebuilt Industries Building was again burnt to the ground and there was substantial damage to the East Cell Block, Main Kitchen and other structures. The Nebraska National Guard was called into service to help quell the disturbance.

 

1956

A new “jail within the prison” was complete replacing an old substandard facility. Initially called the “Adjustment Center,” it consisted of a traditional 36-bed cell block on two galleries. Now called the “Control Unit,” it continues in use today to hold intractable inmates.

jail within the prison

 

1957

The training program for custodial staff was upgraded. “Guards,” now called “Correctional Officers”, were trained in modern penology techniques.

Correctional Officers

 

1957

Educational services were expanded to assist inmates with literacy challenges and those who wanted to obtain an eighth grade diploma. Correspondence courses in high school and college studies were also offered.

 

1959

A Reception Unit for newly-committed inmates was opened adjacent to the Penitentiary East Cell House. First-time offenders were assigned to the first floor and inmates who had served previous sentences were located on the second floor. While in the Reception Unit, inmates were kept separate from other members of the prison population.

Penitentiary East Cell House

 

1959

On June 25, 1959, Charles Starkweather was executed in the electric chair after being convicted of murdering eleven people in a rampage that led across Nebraska and Wyoming.

Charles Starkweather

 

1959

Noted penologist Maurice Sigler was appointed Warden of the Penitentiary ushering in a new era of correctional professionalism.

Maurice Sigler

 

1962

The corrections system came under the supervision of the newly-created Department of Public Institutions which also included the state’s mental health Regional Centers.

 

1963

The Penitentiary and the State Reformatory were administratively combined to form the Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex with the Penitentiary Warden supervising both facilities.

 

1967

A work release program was authorized which allowed inmates with appropriate custody classifications to obtain civilian jobs in the community. This was later extended to permit inmates to attend classes at the University of Nebraska.

 

1968

The first women were employed in custodial positions in the Department.

 

1972

De facto inmate racial segregation ended at the Penitentiary when the previously “white only” East Cell Block was integrated following a federal court order.

 

1973

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services was established as a free-standing agency separate from the Department of Public Institutions. Victor G. Walker was named as the first director. The Department supervised the Penal Complex, the Reformatory for Women, the Youth Development Centers in Kearney (for boys) and Geneva (for girls) and the state’s Parole Administration.

 

1979

With funding provided by the Nebraska Legislature, the Department was able to open several new facilities. The Lincoln Correctional Center replaced the old State Reformatory; the old cell blocks and administrative complex were replaced with new housing units, an administration building, and a power plant at the Penitentiary; and a Diagnostic and Reception Center was opened, replacing the old Reception Unit. The Nebraska Penal and Correctional Complex was dissolved.

 

1984

The Omaha Correctional Center was opened.

 

1985

The Community Corrections Center Omaha was opened.

 

1987

The Hastings Correctional Center, located on the grounds of the Hastings Regional Center, was opened. This facility was turned over to the federal government as an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention Center in 2002 and was subsequently closed in 2005.

 

1993

The Community Corrections Center Lincoln was opened.

 

1994

The Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Kearney was placed under the Office of Juvenile Services within the Department of Correctional Services.

 

1997

The Office of Juvenile Services was transferred from the Department of Correctional Services to the newly-formed Health and Human Services System.

 

1998

The Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility was opened in Omaha, Nebraska.

 

2001

The Tecumseh State Correctional Institution – a maximum security facility – was opened near the town of Tecumseh, Nebraska.

 

2001

The Work Ethic Camp for probationers and inmates was opened in McCook, Nebraska.

 

2008

The Nebraska Supreme Court declared the electric chair unconstitutional. The State of Nebraska subsequently implemented lethal injection as the means of carrying out executions.