- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - The Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday followed through on its promise to sue the state prisons system, accusing it of not taking significant steps to remedy what the group calls inhumane conditions.

The ACLU filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of 11 prisoners against the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, its director Scott Frakes and various prison system officials.

The lawsuit takes the system to task for what it calls the excessive use of solitary confinement and gross negligence of inmates’ medical and mental health issues. It also points to rampant, persistent inmate overcrowding, as well as “dangerous” understaffing.

The lawsuit includes nearly 20 pages dedicated to the specific treatment of the 11 prisoners, detailing among issues the failure to accommodate blind and deaf prisoners and the refusal to approve needed surgery and medication for others.

One of the inmates named as a plaintiff, Jason Galle, was sentenced in 2010 to 45 years in prison for attempted assault on a police officer and other felonies after breaking a vase over a Douglas County sheriff’s deputy’s head. Another deputy shot Galle in the thigh during the struggle.

The lawsuit says prison officials have refused to approve surgery for Galle to remove bone fragments and properly set his fractured femur.

“This injury causes him such pain that he was often unable to bend over or to stand for more than 15 minutes at a time,” the lawsuit says. “The pain is so severe that he is unable to exercise, and he frequently skips meals in order to avoid walking on his leg. This has caused him to lose an alarming amount of weight.”

The femur broke again last month, the lawsuit says, and Galle “now cannot stand unassisted.”

A spokeswoman for the prison system declined to comment Wednesday morning.

The ACLU blames prison overcrowding and understaffing for deadly riots, staff assaults and escapes that have plagued the system in recent years. It notes Nebraska’s prisons are designed to hold 3,275 prisoners, but were housing around 5,230 in March.

In April, the ACLU of Nebraska sent a letter to Gov. Pete Ricketts threatening to sue over the state’s prison system if steps weren’t taken to immediately improve conditions.

On Wednesday, Ricketts defended state government’s efforts to improve prisons, saying in a written statement that prison reform has been a priority in recent years and that the state has “invested millions of taxpayer dollars to protect public safety and expand state prisons.”

“This litigation from the ACLU threatens public safety by seeking the early release of dangerous criminals and could endanger our corrections officers by further limiting the tools they have to manage the inmate population,” he said.

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, asks a court order to require state officials to fix those problems. The only money it requests is to cover attorney and court costs.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that the lawsuit was filed early Wednesday, not late Tuesday.

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