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Over the past year a number of significant problems in the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services have come to light. Premature release of of inmates due to miscalculated sentences, facilities such as the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center dramatically overcrowded at 300% of design capacity, and a lack of needed programming for mental health and substance abuse services rank among the many challenges facing the corrections system in Nebraska. Several Interim Committees have explored these issues in depth. Addressing these problems is a top priority of the Legislature this year.
The Appropriations Committee had the opportunity to meet with recently-appointed Director of Corrections Scott Frakes. While serving in his previous role in Washington state, Director Frakes successfully addressed problems similar to those that we have here in Nebraska. I was impressed by the Director’s candor and thoughtful approach to addressing Nebraska’s broken system.
A number of proposals to begin the long path toward fixing the system are before the Nebraska Legislature this session. It is clear that expanded legislative oversight will be a significant part of reform.
Senator Mello has introduced LB 605, which is based upon recommendations from the Council of State Governments Justice Center. The CSGJC used a data-driven analysis to develop a proposed strategy to reduce recidivism, increase public safety, slow the rate of prison population growth, and reduce corrections spending.
Late in 2014, the NDCS called for a plan to add 1,100 new prison beds to bring the prison population down to 128 percent of design capacity by 2019. However, this would come at a cost of $262 million. Senator Coash’s LB 237 mirrors this plan.
LB 654, introduced by Senator Les Seiler, would construct a mental-health focused corrections facility in Hastings, addressing both space and programming problems.
LB 172 eliminates certain mandatory minimum penalties with the purpose of reducing state’s prison population by enabling prisoners to reach their parole eligibility earlier. LB 173 changes provisions relating to the application for non-violent crimes under the “three strikes and you’re out” laws. LB 592 would require prison officials to evaluate inmates before their release to determine their capacity to return to society. LB 499 would re-establish needed behavioral and mental health programs in collaboration with DCS, Office of Probation Administration, and the Office of Juvenile Services.
As each of these proposals makes its way through the committee process, they will be refined and improved before coming before the full Legislature. The Judiciary and Appropriations Committee processes are both focussed on addressing the challenges in a way that places public safety at the greatest priority. I look forward to working with my fellow Senators and Director Frakes to reform the corrections system in Nebraska.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns regarding the corrections system or any other legislation, please do not hesitate to contact my office by e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 402-471-2732. For daily updates, please follow me on Twitter at @JohnKuehnDVM.
Senator John Kuehn, District 38