November 23, 2014

Corrections Director suspends employees for sentencing scandal

Corrections Dir. Mike Kenney with AG Jon Bruning to his right and Gov. Dave Heineman to his left

Corrections Dir. Mike Kenney with AG Jon Bruning to his right and Gov. Dave Heineman to his left

State Corrections Director Mike Kenney has announced he has suspended some employees, disciplined others, and ordered changes at the Department of Correctional Services in light of the miscalculation of prison sentences.

A miscalculation by the Department of Correctional Services led to the release of 306 inmates before they had served their time. Before it was caught, a majority of the inmates had served enough time in their communities to qualify for completion of their sentences. State officials served warrants to approximately 25 inmates who hadn’t to return to prison and serve out their time; mostly between one and four years.

The Omaha World Herald broke the story in a special investigative piece. Most of the 306 released have been out long enough to receive the credit necessary for their sentences to be considered completed. A Supreme Court case states that any individual released early, who hasn’t committed a crime while out of prison, receives credit for the time served in their community. That total, according to the governor’s office, is 257 former inmates.

Kenney, in a written statement released by the Department of Correctional Services late in the day, stated that he relied on evidence unearthed by a special investigation conducted by the Jackson-Lewis law firm.

Kenney stated he has begun taking steps in accordance with the disciplinary action for employees outlined in the State Personnel Rules and Regulations.

“While I cannot share names with the public at this time, I can say that I have initiated the suspension of certain employees pending completion of the disciplinary process,” Kenney said in the written statement. “Under the state’s personnel procedures, it will take approximately five working days to complete the due process required by the regulations. In addition to these suspended employees, disciplinary actions are being contemplated for other employees who played a role in the sentencing miscalculations. The scope and severity of violations by those employees is being evaluated at this time based upon the findings of the investigation.”

Kenney said he is committed to full accountability “on the part of any agency employee whose negligence or failure to act contributed to this massive problem.”

Kenney said this has been an extremely trying time for the department and its employees. He stated he is determined to take whatever steps might be necessary to rebuild public confidence in the department.

Kenney vowed to work closely with Gov. Dave Heineman, Attorney General Jon Bruning, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, the Council of State Governments, and others to improve our agency.

He outlined four management steps he has taken in wake of the sentencing miscalculations.

First, he ordered any court order or litigation contact from the Attorney General’s office to be brought to the agency director.

Second, he ordered that the department retain a copy of the judge’s sentencing order rather than rely on the “commitment order” that accompanies an inmate upon arrival. The commitment order had been used to calculate sentences, but they do not always contain complete sentencing information.

“It is clear to me that had these procedures been in place, the risk of sentence miscalculations or failure to follow a court’s order would have been mitigated or eliminated,” according to Kenney.

Third, Kenney has directed an internal systems review of the operation of the Records Department.

Fourth, Kenney requested the National Institute of Corrections conduct an independent review of the department’s records operation.

“I want to publicly acknowledge and thank Attorney General Bruning and the many attorneys and staff in his office who have worked long hours to assist my agency in this ordeal. I fully intend to make more specific information and action updates available to the public as they become available,” Kenney said.