August 27, 2014

Prison overcrowding will clash with worries about early release in session (AUDIO)

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert addresses reporters with Gov. Dave Heineman

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert addresses reporters with Gov. Dave Heineman

Concerns about prison overcrowding will clash with worries about releasing violent prisoners too early in the upcoming legislative session.

Gov. Dave Heineman has already scaled back rules that allow prisoners to be released early for good time, but says the legislature must act.

“I certainly support and I think the people in Omaha support that we need to reform the good time law so that violent criminals have to earn their good time rather than automatically receiving it,” Heineman told reporters during a news conference at the Capitol.

Heineman has signed an executive order allowing prison officials to penalize inmates for violent outburst while incarcerated. The new rules allow officials to take away two years of good time if an inmate assaults and injures a guard or a fellow prisoner.

Nebraska prisoners automatically earn a day of “good time” for every day incarcerated.

Heineman acted in wake of events in Omaha, where Jean Stothert is mayor.

“We’ve had some high-profile incidences in Omaha in the last year and the Nikko Jenkins case is one that is the best example I can give,” Stothert stated during the news conference.

Jenkins is accused of killing four in Omaha after being released early July 30th. Jenkins suffered no loss of good time for disciplinary problems while in prison.

His case gives lawmakers pause as they wrestle with how to ease prison overcrowding without spending money to build new prisons. Nebraska prisons have exceeded their capacity, leading lawmakers to look at ways to reduce prison population and avoid the $120-150 million price tag to build a new prison.

Corrections officials have been working on plans to ease the overcrowding. State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, chairman of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, has been holding meetings on the problem.

Ashford has said he will consider a wide range of options, including using community treatment for non-violent offenders, reducing the use of mandatory minimum sentences, and looking at alternative criminal sentencing.

Nebraska has nine state prisons, with a total capacity of 3,175 inmates. As for this summer, the prison population topped 4,700.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]