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LINCOLN, NE: Recommendations regarding necessary improvements in the Department of Correctional Services have been made in a report released today by a bi-partisan committee of the Nebraska Legislature.
The report is the result of work completed in the Legislative interim by the Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee, which was established under LR34.
“We believe the recommendations in this report are essential to addressing the chronic and systemic challenges in the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services,” said Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, Chair of the Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee. “These challenges continue to create serious barriers to the well-being of correctional officers, the successful rehabilitation of incarcerated individuals, and the public safety of our communities.”
“The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services has been without sufficient resources for many years, leading to understaffing, low morale, inadequate programming, and inadequate mental health care,” said Senator Pansing Brooks. “Getting the Department back to where it needs to be will require significant resources in the next legislative session and beyond. Tough decisions need to be made. Our state budget can no longer be balanced on the back of corrections cuts.”
The committee held ten hearings on specific topics including staffing, overcrowding, mental and behavioral health and treatment, programming, and restrictive housing.
“The committee found that significant problems remain in the Department of Correctional Services, including a high number of vacant positions, significant turnover in staffing, overcrowding, lack of appropriate programs to ensure that individuals gain skills and participate in rehabilitative activities so that they can become parole eligible, and much more,” adds Senator Kate Bolz. “Decisive action is needed in both the Executive and Legislative branches to implement these recommendations and stabilize our system as quickly as possible.”
Thirty-three recommendations were made by the committee. Specific recommendations included:
•Budget proposals submitted to the Nebraska Legislature by the Department of Correctional Services should be fully funded.
•The Legislature should convene a group of attorneys to conduct a comprehensive review of the Nebraska Criminal Code in order to address front-end issues related to overcrowding. The group should provide a report to the Judiciary Committee with recommendations for changes by September 15, 2018.
•Promotion of efforts to recruit and retain behavioral health staff members through increased wages, improved working conditions and a student recruitment initiative in partnership with the Behavioral Health Education Network of Nebraska should be quickly implemented.
•Development of an implementation plan to address the recommendations for increased programming as proposed by the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, as well as increasing access to cognitive behavioral therapy and gender-specific programming for women must occur.
•Implementation of mission specific housing for individuals with specific needs, such as mental illness, and ensuring that restrictive housing rules and regulations meet American Bar Association standards should be initiated.
The Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee was established in 2014 to examine the circumstances of Nikko Jenkins’ confinement and release. This examination has led to a multi-year oversight and legislative reform effort by the Nebraska Legislature. Committee members included: Senators Seiler, Pansing Brooks, Bolz, Chambers, Coash, Ebke, Krist, Mello, Morfeld, Schumacher, and Williams.