- Associated Press - Friday, May 16, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - An Omaha man who went on a killing spree last year shortly after he left prison was kept in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day during his final years in custody and was then released with no attempts to help him ease back into society, a state watchdog said Friday.

Nebraska State Ombudsman Marshall Lux told a legislative committee that administrative segregation might have worsened Jenkins‘ already severe mental health problems. While isolated, Jenkins did not have the same access to mental health services as other inmates, Lux said, and he once carved into his face with a loose floor tile.

“It is well accepted in the corrections profession that inmates in those conditions be gradually transitioned back into the general population,” Lux said. “That didn’t happen with Mr. Jenkins.”

Lux’s comments came as lawmakers began a wide-ranging investigation into the Jenkins case, and whether it reflects larger problems in the state corrections system. A phone message left Friday with the Department of Correctional Services wasn’t immediately returned.

Jenkins pleaded no contest last month and was convicted in the shooting deaths of Juan Uribe-Pena, Jorge Cajiga-Ruiz, Curtis Bradford and Andrea Kruger over a 10-day period after his release from prison in July. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty.

Prosecutors say he planned the killings to cover up robberies of the victims or to keep them from identifying him. Jenkins insists that he doesn’t remember the killings, but says an Egyptian god named Ahpophis ordered him in a foreign language to kill the four as human sacrifices.

Lux recommended that lawmakers look into how and why prison inmates are placed in solitary confinement, the treatment programs and mental health services available, and whether the Department of Correctional Services is adequately helping segregated inmates return to the general prison population.

He also suggested that lawmakers check into how often mentally ill inmates are referred to county attorneys for civil commitments before their scheduled release.

Jenkins had begged corrections officials for mental health treatment while incarcerated at the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in southeast Nebraska, but was transferred to another facility before the local prosecutor could have him committed civilly, said Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, the committee chairman. Lathrop said he wants to know why that happened.

“Once we identify some of the concerns that are related to Jenkins, we can look at the broader policy implications of how corrections is involved in mental health programming,” Lathrop said.

Lawmakers also plan to trace Jenkins‘ path through Nebraska’s child welfare system, on suspicion that other problems occurred.

Jenkins first entered the child welfare system in 1993, at age 7, after he brought a handgun to school. Throughout his childhood, Lux said, he was placed in as many as 20 different foster and group homes.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha said the Jenkins case was mishandled by state and local officials alike. Chambers has criticized the local trial judge for allowing Jenkins to defend himself in court and letting him plead no contest to the charges, despite his mental illness.

Chambers had equally harsh words for the Department of Correctional Services.

“The institution ridded itself of these problems by dumping Nikko Jenkins, with all the information and warnings that they had, into the community,” he said.

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