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Transforming the Culture of Corrections

By Governor Pete Ricketts

June 10, 2016


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Changing the culture of a large organization can be challenging, but also rewarding.  When I took office last year, one of my focuses was identifying a transformational leader to lead our state’s prison system to help the organization move beyond challenges it faced under previous leadership.  After a national search, I hired Scott Frakes, a respected leader in corrections with experience working at nearly every level of the system, to serve as the next director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS).  


In his first year and a half on the job, Scott has helped the agency make significant strides and overcome the issues he inherited.  Shortly after he started, Scott ended a program which allowed inmates to leave prison before their sentences were completed.  Last year, he collaborated with his team to lay out a strategic plan to provide a roadmap for the future of the agency.  This spring, he worked with the Legislature to secure more than $26 million in funding to expand our community corrections facility in Lincoln to provide more community-custody beds and expand reentry programming. 


In addition to these initiatives, Director Frakes has placed a renewed focus on the well-being and development of the workforce in his agency.  Last July, Scott requested a culture study to identify some of the top workforce needs and to improve the culture among agency staff.  A team of interagency professionals, led by Sharon Rues-Pettid from my office, worked together to interview more than 470 staff members from every location and every staff category in the agency.  Altogether, this team spent nine months working to interview staff and conduct a comprehensive and scientific analysis of qualitative and quantitative data gathered from the interviews, as well as a review of training, policy, and procedure development components.


The findings from the study were not unexpected, but the results helped confirm NDCS needs to continue to focus on several key areas to improve the agency’s culture.  Top concerns identified by staff interviewed over the course of the study included the themes of communication and leadership; employee safety; inmate culture; training; compensation; and facility maintenance.  These challenges and concerns are not unique to Nebraska’s corrections agency—other states have found similar concerns in their prison systems. 


NDCS is already focused on developing strategies to address the concerns raised by staff in the study.  For example, the department has created an intelligence team to identify some of the factors in assaults on staff by inmates and they are increasing the use of cognitive-behavioral interventions as a way to address criminal thinking.  In the area of communication and leadership, Director Frakes has established Employee Positive Impact Councils at each of the agency’s facilities to help provide an open forum for employee feedback, and he is working to establish clear, workable paths for promotion in the agency.  These are just some of the many steps the agency is taking to move the department forward.


In the coming weeks and months, Scott and his team will utilize this study to continue to develop and implement strategies to move NDCS forward.  Because of the work environment, corrections will always face challenges their team will have to come together to address, however, the agency has already charted a new course over the past year and is on the right path.  If you’re interested in reading the culture study, you can visit for more about the findings and how the agency is working together to change its culture.


As always, if you have feedback on this subject or anything else on your mind, I encourage you to contact my office by emailing or by calling 402-471-2244. We look forward to hearing from you!