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Issues relating to Nebraska’s correctional systems are showing up in the news more frequently this year than ever before. Whether it is assaults on guards, riots, assaults on other inmates, or another problem, it can almost all be traced back to overcrowding and understaffing. Nebraska’s prisons are currently at 157% of capacity, and have only dropped by 1.4% in the last 18 months. The solution to this, as with most problems, will not be changing a singular policy. Staffing needs to be addressed. Overcrowding needs to be addressed. Rehabilitation needs to be addressed. We will have to spend more money in different areas in order to rein in this problem. Some of that money may need to go into facilities, and some may need to go into hiring more guards, counselors, and other professionals. We may have to reverse cuts made during the last administration.
Increasing staffing and building more buildings are relatively simple solutions, but the more complex side of the issue is reducing recidivism: we must work to close the “revolving door” in our prison system. If we are going to punish offenders with imprisonment, we must make sure that when they leave, they have the tools to be successful on the outside. If we do not help to make sure that people are gaining and improving marketable skills while they are incarcerated, they will still leave prison with new skills – but these will be only the skills which they learned from other inmates. If someone cannot find employment, and earn an honest living once they have left our correctional system, then it will be much more difficult for them to avoid turning to those “prison skills” in order to make ends meet.
Focusing on keeping people out of prison once they have left should pay dividends to society in the long run: we will have fewer inmates, requiring less money be spent on our correctional system. I am not advocating leniency for violent or heinous offenders, but rather that those convicted of minor offenses ought to be given the opportunity to turn their lives around and therefore not re-enter the criminal justice system. We will have people living lawful lives and participating in society, and we will all benefit from these people paying in their share of taxes rather than taking out, whether that taking out would have been the costs of incarceration or the costs of unemployment and other programs.