Here’s a record Nebraska leaders didn’t want to set: a new high for prison overcrowding.
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While Nebraska has a low violent crime rate, there has been a lot of opportunity to ensure that our prisons and criminal justice system help bring that rate down. Over the past three years, state officials have been working to invest in our criminal justice system. This will help bring down the rate of reoffending and give our corrections officers a better work environment. This work has been a three-branch, bipartisan effort focused on five major areas: sentencing reform, funding operations, building prison capacity, improving facility staffing and expanding programming.
Prisons play a key role in Nebraska’s criminal justice system by protecting public safety and preparing inmates for return to our society. Under the leadership of Director Scott Frakes over the past two years, the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) has been making great strides and working to better achieve their mission. From expanding facility capacity to automating sentence calculation processes and expanding programming, the agency has been adopting data-driven practices to modernize its operations and facilities.
It has been threatened for years, and it has finally come about. The ACLU filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Nebraska inmates in U.S. District Court, alleging that overcrowding in the state’s prisons has led to unsafe conditions and that many prisoners aren’t having medical conditions treated.
Nebraska’s effort to reduce prison overcrowding via “justice reinvestment” has fallen far short of projections, and state officials said Tuesday that the policy needs tweaks and more studies.
In his first in-depth interview since a deadly prison uprising 18 days ago, the governor told The World-Herald that he’s focused on changing prisons from human warehouses to places where offenders obtain the education, job training and behavioral treatment they need to live productively upon their release. Slash re-offense rates, he said, and taxpayers will save money, prisons will be safer and the public will be better protected.
Still no arrests have been made and there’s no word on what caused the incident that left fires burning and two inmates dead at the Tecumseh State prison.
A deadly incident at the state’s maximum-security prison in Tecumseh last week has once again put a public focus on the important work of reforming the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS). In my first two years as governor, corrections reform has been a top priority to ensure we are protecting public safety. Working with the Legislature and courts, we have begun to address challenges with our prison population, successfully lobbied for additional investments, improved staffing and recruitment, expanded programming opportunities and assessed security needs.
As unrest turned violent at a Nebraska prison some 50 miles away, top state officials on Thursday were updated on changes intended to reduce overcrowding in the state’s prisons.
Debate over the state budget in the Legislature Wednesday turned into debate over whether Gov. Pete Ricketts has exceeded his powers. And clashing views were offered about a convention to propose changes to the U.S. Constitution.
Area county attorneys say the pinch will be felt locally in probation and juvenile services if lawmakers follow through on Gov. Pete Ricketts’ proposal to slash $8.2 million from the judicial branch in the state’s next two-year budget.
The budget-crafting committee on Wednesday unanimously voted to move forward an amended version of Gov. Pete Ricketts’ budget recommendations to help shore up the budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Let’s hope that state senators were tuned in when Nebraska Supreme Court Justice Mike Heavican spoke to them last week about the judicial branch of state government.
In his State of the Judiciary address in the legislative chambers and at a committee hearing, Heavican said flatly and plainly that budget cuts proposed by Gov. Pete Ricketts threaten prison reform.
Nebraska’s top judge warned lawmakers Thursday that budget cuts to the probation system could result in higher prison populations and costs in the long term.
Nebraska’s top judge used his State of the Judiciary address to issue a strong warning Thursday.
Recommendations by Gov. Pete Ricketts to help close the nearly $900 million budget gap would avoid cutting from the Department of Correctional Services. But the Supreme Court, the judicial branch that oversees courts and the Administrative Office of Probation, would face $8.2 million in cuts in the fiscal year that has less than six months remaining.
To overcome years of neglect in its state prison system, Nebraska needs to increase funding significantly, according to a special legislative report released on Thursday.
A special legislative committee believes more money must be poured into the state correctional system, despite a looming budget deficit.
Lawmakers can protect the children of nonviolent inmates by expanding existing prison reforms and working with judges who sentence parents, a leading expert said.
Reforms enacted in 2015 to reduce overcrowding in Nebraska prisons haven’t worked as quickly as projected, but that’s not unusual, said officials with The Council of State Governments Justice Center, which helped craft the changes.
Nebraska’s prison population grew 20 percent between fiscal year 2003 and 2013, prompting lawmakers to approve an overhaul package that expanded treatment programs.
Nebraska’s corrections director said recently that he is optimistic the state’s prisons will become less crowded even though a series of reforms haven’t yet reduced the inmate population as expected. He said he expects the situation to improve by next year, and expressed confidence that the department can still meet its goal of being just 40 percent over its design capacity by 2020.
It’s hot and it’s crowded. Not a good mix for many places, especially not the Nebraska Department of Corrections, which is about 160 percent over capacity with 5,400 inmates. The number of inmate assaults on guards – and one another – continues to climb. Multiple reports indicate general unrest among the population and threats of physical violence toward staff.
A study by the Council of State Governments indicates that Nebraska could reduce recidivism by providing more access to programs. A report from the organization’s Justice Center said the state currently misses opportunities to identify risks and needs of inmates and to target program resources accordingly. About a third of inmates with one year of parole eligibility are not getting parole hearings because they have not finished programming, or don’t have access to programs.
The question of how much to spend on programming to keep more inmates from returning to prison presents Nebraska elected officials with a classic dilemma. In the short term it saves money for the state to keep programming expenses low. But in the long-term it will end up costing more money, as well as increasing the risk to public safety.
Outside experts just handed Nebraska prison officials a blueprint for improving how the state helps inmates become law-abiding citizens. Now it’s time to build. The state’s prisons already offer strong programs to help criminals prepare for life after prison. But the programs fall short because of long waiting lists for classes, counseling and job training. Too few prisoners get help, and a third don’t receive required services by their parole eligibility date, often delaying their release.
Nebraska could keep more inmates from returning to prison by providing more access to programs, a study by analysts from the Council of State Governments Justice Center concluded.
A national group that helps states improve their prison systems gave Nebraska high marks for the quality of its rehabilitation programs but lower marks for the quantity of them.
For years, Nebraskans have been wondering what the solution may be to the state’s prison overcrowding issue. A new report’s findings suggest the Nebraska Department of Corrections could do a better job at enrolling inmates in rehabilitation programs, making them eligible for parole and more likely not to re-offend.
Senators on a special investigative committee expressed concern recently about a report that nearly half of the people leaving prison are being discharged rather than paroled with supervision.
Work has continued on sentencing reforms that started last year, and the results have been molded into follow-up legislation that recently advanced in the Nebraska legislature.
Overcrowding remains a problem for Nebraska prisons, which now hold about 1,900 more inmates than their design capacity. And sentencing changes enacted by lawmakers in 2015 to relieve overcrowding have been used in only a handful of cases since the new law took effect in September. It’s too early to tell how effective Legislative Bill 605, the “justice reinvestment” bill, will be, said Hastings Sen. Les Seiler, who heads the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.
Nebraska lawmakers spent years building the state’s tough-on-crime reputation with policies that sent more thieves, drug offenders, and parole violators to prison.
The bills, which now head to Gov. Pete Ricketts for approval, will enhance public safety and lay a foundation for reforming Nebraska’s overcrowded prison system, said Omaha Sen. Heath Mello.
LB 605, introduced by Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, advanced. The bill’s stated intent is “to slow Nebraska’s prison population growth, ease prison overcrowding, contain corrections spending, and reinvest a portion of savings in strategies that can reduce recidivism and increase public safety.”
Despite one high-profile failure in predicting the future risks of a prison inmate, officials involved in corrections in Nebraska as well as Iowa defend the use of risk and needs assessments as a key player in reducing prison costs and repeat crimes.
Sentencing reforms proposed by a blue-ribbon committee to avoid $300 million in new prison construction and reduce overcrowding got a mostly favorable reception during a public hearing Friday.
Last week, Nebraska’s new corrections department director made a key decision regarding our state’s prison system. Less than two weeks after taking office, Scott Frakes’ message is clear: Nebraska’s corrections department is headed in a new direction.
Nebraska’s crisis-level prison challenges have prompted a new and unusual alliance.
Nebraska Chief Justice Mike Heavican told lawmakers during his State of the Judiciary address that alternative sentencing holds promise in reducing the prison population.
A group of senators who spent months studying what to do about Nebraska’s prisons troubles have offered a list of solutions in a package of bills.
After months of research, the experts agree: There is no single answer for overhauling Nebraska’s prison system. But there are many steps that can improve how the state punishes and rehabilitates criminals.
A proposal for prison reform contends Nebraska can spend a little to save a lot.
The policy options for reducing prison overcrowding suggested in the Nebraska Justice Reinvestment Project are backed by data and grounded in common sense.
The high-dollar debate over the state’s chronically overcrowded, and controversial, prison system has begun.
Changes in policies could save the Nebraska millions of dollars over five years, yielding a 10 percent decrease in prison population and avoiding $306 million in prison construction, a national justice study concluded.
If there’s one sure bet floating around the Nebraska Statehouse this week, it’s that prison reform will generate ample proposals and abundant debate in the 2015 session that begins Wednesday.
To reduce prison overcrowding and repeat crimes, a reform study recommends that Nebraska increase the use of probation and drug courts for nonviolent offenders and bulk up supervision of inmates after their release.
A proposal to require supervision for individuals after completing prison sentence, address the needs of crime victims and tackle the revolving door to state prisons was released today by the Justice Reinvestment Working Group.
More than $306 million could be diverted from Nebraska prison construction and operating costs over five years to programs that tackle prison crowding while improving public safety.
A long-awaited consultant’s report says Nebraska needs to expand three prison facilities, adding more than 1,100 beds, to handle chronic overcrowding.
A study of prison reforms in Nebraska is beginning to home in on some reasons why state prisons are so overcrowded.
The CSG Justice Center is helping Alabama tackle prison reform and is working to reduce prison overcrowding in Nebraska and Washington.
Marc Pelka, program director of the CSG Justice Center, told the working group that more than 1,000 people convicted of low-level, mostly nonviolent crimes accounted for 41 percent of Nebraska prison admissions in 2013.
Nebraska’s top office-holders are looking at ways to reduce crowding in the state prison system and say they will likely push for changes once lawmakers convene next year.
Nebraska’s issues with prison overcrowding continue as the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services released its latest budget request earlier this month.
Nebraska could significantly reduce prison overcrowding by sentencing more nonviolent felons to probation instead of prison and by finding alternatives to incarceration for inmates serving sentences of less than a year.
Crime decreased 20 percent in Nebraska over the past 10 years, and adult arrests decreased 15 percent.
Nebraska could significantly reduce prison crowding by sentencing more nonviolent felons to probation instead of prison and by finding alternatives to incarceration for inmates serving sentences of less than a year.
Marc Pelka, the program director for the Justice Reinvestment Program, which is a project of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, cited several of the reasons for the prison population increase, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.
Nebraska has been struggling with prison overcrowding for several years and turned to the use of county jails — as some other states have done — to offer short-term relief until other measures to reduce prison population take hold.
In the effort to find solutions to Nebraska’s crowded prisons, the chairman of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee says the good-time law should not be at the center of the debate.
Nebraska hopes to avoid building a new prison, and is receiving some help with ideas to reform the corrections system, to reduce the number of inmates, and to keep from having to spend millions on more prison cells.
State leaders got a price estimate Wednesday if they do nothing about Nebraska’s increasingly overcrowded prisons: $499 million.
A national organization that has helped 19 other states cut prison spending and reduce repeat crimes by investing in alternatives to incarceration will officially begin its work today in Nebraska.
Today, Gov. Dave Heineman, Speaker of the Legislature Greg Adams and Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Heavican announced the launch of Nebraska’s comprehensive study of the state’s criminal justice system to develop a long-term prison strategy and to increase public safety.