New Ideas Recommended for Prison Reform in Nebraska

NBC News 5 By Shelby Fenster

Nebraska’s prison population is more than 40 percent over capacity.  On Thursday, the non-partisan Platte Institute came forward with solutions that go well beyond a new facility.

“We cannot build our way out of this problem,” said State Senator Brad Ashford, District 20.

While Senator Ashford has already introduced two bills, LB907 and LB999, tackling prison reform this session, now there are even more ideas aimed at solving overcrowding.

“The fact is we cannot continue on the trajectory that we are.  Approaching 5,000 incarcerated individuals and 200 million dollars of state dollars to fund those incarcerations,” said Holland Children’s Movement Chief Operating Officer John Cavanaugh.

Prison reform scholar Marc Levin says he supports Senator Ashford’s bills that will implement supervised release programs and create plans for inmates who re-enter society.  But his recommendations don’t end there.

The first?  Sentencing Reform.

“You might have two 18 year old brother and sister sharing a little marijuana, or with friends, and again it’s not a trivial offense, it should be punished, but we would ask, does it need to be a one year mandatory minimum?” said Marc Levin, director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

His next recommendation? Incentive funding.

“Local probation departments and local counties that say, we voluntarily want to send fewer non-violent offenders to be incarcerated they can receive a share of the savings that the state gets from that,” said Levin.

And Levin’s third solution is removing barriers for offenders to be successful upon re-entry– like making it easier for ex-offenders to get occupational licenses.

“The second one is liability relief for employers who hire ex-offenders.  Essentially saying they can’t be sued simply for having given a ex-offender a second chance,” he added.

And the recommendations aren’t going unacknowledged.  Senator Ashford says he is already drafting amendments to his bills that will include Levin’s suggestions.

And, of course, Earned Time has been getting a lot of attention with the Governor’s proposal.  Marc Levin says he does support Earned Time but it could be improved upon with supervised release.