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LB 1208 and LB 131
The last two weeks of committee hearings are upon us, which means that late night debate is just around the corner. The 482 total bills introduced this session will have each had a public hearing by February 27. The focus of the column this week will be two bills which originated in the Judiciary Committee that would potentially compromise the safety of our corrections officers and our communities. This past week, we heard testimony on LB 1208 which relates to restrictive housing, immediate segregation, discipline, and other conditions of confinement in state correctional facilities.
“Restrictive housing” is a term used within the Nebraska Department of Corrections when an inmate is moved from the general population to a more restricted setting with less contact with other inmates and less time spent outside the cell, typically due to attempted assaults on staff or other inmates. LB 1208 placed limitations on Department of Corrections’ use of restrictive housing with our most dangerous inmates, setting caps for the amount of days an inmate could spend in restrive housing and setting a minimum number of hours to be spent outside the cell each day.
Many leaders in corrections opposed this bill during public hearing because it would compromise the safety of staff and of the prisons as a whole. Dozens of staff members at TSCI reached out to my office, as well, to share their concerns with a bill that prioritized inmate comfort over staff safety.
According to the hearing testimony of the Director of the Nebraska Department of Corrections, Scott Frakes, Nebraska was 2nd in the nation for the percentage of inmates held in restrictive housing in 2015. Of the 5,162 people incarcerated in NDCS, 685 were in restrictive housing, with 173 of those held in “administrative segregation”. Over 45% of the people who are considered for placement in immediate segregation instead go to an alternative, less restrictive setting. The Department of Corrections has lowered the number of inmates in restrictive housing since that time by 60%, with a mere 273 inmates in restrictive housing today. Director Frakes also shared that LB 1208 would decrease prison safety and has the potential to increase risks to staff, inmates, visitors and the public at large. LB 1208 represents an initiative that would work only in a hypothetical world with unlimited resources for building facilities up to the most modern standards possible and the ability to double our staffing numbers at correctional facilities across the state. I oppose the bill because we must legislate based on current conditions, and those current conditions paired with the mandates of LB 1208 would put staff in danger.
Another corrections bill that is a carry-over from last session is LB 131. This bill, which I oppose, would allow dangerous felons back into our communities before the originally-scheduled completion date of their minimum sentence. The amended bill, which passed through committee with me as the only vote in opposition, would restructure sentencing to make felons eligible for release, in some cases after serving only a quarter of their original minimum sentence. In the first round of floor debate on this bill, it was shared that LB 131 was meant to address the prison overcrowding crisis in Nebraska. For me, releasing felons who have been convicted of heinous crimes such as sexual assault of a child, manslaughter, repeat DUIs, kidnapping, attempted murder, drug trafficking and human trafficking is far too high a price to pay for the potential of lowering our states incarceration rate by a few dozen people. I oppose this bill, and will continue to do so on the floor.
As always, I welcome your input on issues important to you. Follow along on my Facebook and Twitter pages, both entitled “Senator Julie Slama” for more updates, or contact me directly at Senator Julie Slama, District 1 State Capitol, PO Box 94604, Lincoln NE 68509-4604; telephone: 402-471-2733; email: email@example.com.