Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS)
In 2016, NDCS adopted a multi-disciplinary approach to the management of, assignment to, and promotion from longer-term restrictive housing for incarcerated individuals. The make-up of the multi-disciplinary review team (MDRT) was promulgated by the department, and codified in statute.
The Central Office MDRT meets weekly to review recommendations for assignment to, and promotion from, longer-term restrictive housing (LTRH) across five facilities. All designated team members must be present, and decisions are reached through general consensus. The director of the agency may be consulted if the team cannot reach a decision.
Providing a centralized approach to the management of longer-term restrictive housing (greater than 30 days) was critical to creating a risk management—rather than punitive—approach to the use of restrictive housing. NDCS eliminated the use of disciplinary segregation in July of 2016. The desired outcomes of this elimination include: consistency in assignment to and promotion from LTRH; limiting the use of restrictive housing to those inmates that present too great of risk to be housed in less restrictive settings; and .
Nebraska Legislative Bill (LB) 598, passed in 2015, established a number of parameters around the use of restrictive housing. NDCS was required to develop and promulgate rules consistent with LB598. The decision to use a multi-disciplinary approach was made by the agency in an effort to ensure LTRH decisions were informed by a number of voices, including security, intelligence/investigations, classification, research, and mental health.
The MDRT went through the normal stages of team development, but became functional fairly quickly. The implementation of the MDRT was just one of many significant changes to restrictive housing management. Coordinating facility-level processes with the MDRT process took several months to iron out. The integration of the restrictive housing classification process into the electronic inmate tracking system (2017) greatly improved the flow of and access to documents – further improving the quality of risk assessment and decision making by the MDRT.
The process has been successful in creating a consistent approach to managing individuals assigned to restrictive housing for longer periods of time. The use of Immediate Segregation (less than 30 days) has seen a significant reduction. The number of people assigned to LTRH, however, has gone up since 2016, and the average length of stay for that group is increasing. This can be directly attributed to a number of large incidents that occurred in 2016 and 2017, and the identification of significant security-threat-group activity that was driving a spike in violence, including violence against staff. The expansion of mission-specific housing options—including a transitional program that provides pathways out of LTRH—should lead to fewer people being assigned to or remaining in LTRH.
Using a multi-disciplinary approach helps ensure the exploration of all available options, allowing NDCS to house people in the least restrictive setting that is safe for all involved.