Prison reform top priority on heels of Jenkins report


By Jake Wasikowski

Lincoln, NE — The Nebraska Legislature got back to work Thursday, and the man with the tattooed face is on many of their minds.  It comes on the heels of a scathing report on how the corrections system handled one of Nebraska’s most dangerous criminals, Nikko Jenkins.

The report accuses the Nebraska Department of Corrections of ignoring dozens of threats by Jenkins, putting him in segregation for more than half his prison sentence without mental health services, and just letting him out on the streets.  Some senators say that can never happen again.

The 27-year-old Jenkins admitted to killing four people just weeks after getting out of prison.  The brutal murders took place over a 10-day span in every sector of Omaha.

The State Ombudsman’s Office documents numerous warning signs, and instances where the correctional system failed to protect public safety.  Jenkins asked not to be released and asked for mental health services; instead the state released and put him out on the streets without supervision.

State Senator Brad Ashford, the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, is leading the charge on prison reform.  He says Jenkins is an extreme example of someone who needed to be committed after his sentence.  Ashford says currently 40% of inmates serve their time and are let out without supervision or help reintegrating into society.

“No one, no one public safety demands this, no one should jam out of sentence,” Senator Ashford explained.  “These people are there because they violated the law, there’s a great deal of dysfunction among these people.  We have to understand that, and the fact is the sentence is going to end, they are going to get out.”

Senator Ashford wants to change policy by making the NDCS increase mental health programs for inmates, and supervise their release back into the community.  Other senators agree it’s a top priority.

“We’ve seen some terribly tragic circumstances because of what is or isn’t happening in our corrections system so it definitely needs attention,” said Senator Annette Dubas.

Senator Ashford says Jenkins’ case is a huge wake up call to every leader in Nebraska.

“The fact that something possibly could’ve been done to keep that person in prison so those murders would not have occurred that makes it even more horrific and tragic,” Sen. Ashford concluded.

The reform will also include how to change the capacity for Nebraska’s prison system.  Currently it’s at 150% capacity.  Sen. Ashford hopes the bill will hit the floor next week.