December 20, 2014

Sen. Lathrop objects to Gov. Heineman criticism of report (AUDIO)

Sen. Steve Lathrop (L) shared a few words with Gov. Dave Heineman prior to Heineman's testimony before the legislative committee

Sen. Steve Lathrop (L) shared a few words with Gov. Dave Heineman prior to Heineman’s testimony before the legislative committee

Sen. Steve Lathrop objects to Governor Dave Heineman’s response to a legislative committee report on the prison sentence miscalculation scandal.

Lathrop, who chaired the committee, calls Heineman’s criticism of the report as “a partisan shot” a familiar response.

“Attribute something you don’t want to hear to a Democrat and then call it a partisan attack,” Lathrop tells Nebraska Radio Network in a telephone interview.

Lathrop, a Democrat, points out three Democrats, three Republicans, and one independent sat on the committee that investigated the department of corrections and reached a unanimous conclusion. He objects to Heineman, a Republican, calling it partisan and referring to it as the Lathrop report.

“I do think the criticism is unfounded and it is a distraction from the report,” Lathrop says.

The Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee concluded Gov. Heineman set the tone that led to the prison sentencing miscalculations, because he refused to consider building a new prison to relieve overcrowding.

A 2006 study forecast the population in Nebraska prisons would exceed 140% of their designed capacity. It projected the need for more prison space. Lathrop contends that by deciding not to consider prison construction, the governor placed pressure on state Corrections officials to push for controversial programs.

A point of contention between the governor and the committee is whether legislators knew of the 2006 report and its conclusions, and agreed with the governor that Nebraska didn’t want to spend between $150 and $250 million to add prison space.

In an interview with Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN, Gov. Heineman accused the committee of attempting to rewrite history in its report. Heineman told Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln, “He’s (Lathrop) trying to rewrite history in the sense that he says, you know a report came out in 2006 (that) we ought to build a new prison.”

Heineman stated he shared the report with Judiciary Committee Chairman, Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, and made it available to members of the Unicameral. Heineman added no on in state government wanted to build a new prison.

Lathrop wrote Heineman a letter, outlining his objections to comments made in the interview. [PDF of Lathrop letter to Gov. Heineman]

Lathrop insists he never saw the report until the legislative committee subpoenaed it. He adds the legislature never considered the possibility of prison construction, because it was assured by former Corrections Director Bob Houston the prison population was manageable.

Lathrop hopes a new governor and a new legislature will take the committee report seriously.

“I think the important lesson is you can’t simply starve these agencies of resources and substitute pressure on the employees to perform functions that they can’t properly perform without adequate resources,” according to Lathrop.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

Nebraska wants Colorado marijuana legalization overturned

Attorney General Jon Bruning

Attorney General Jon Bruning

Attorney General Jon Bruning says Nebraska wants Colorado’s move to legalize marijuana overturned.

“Today, Nebraska was joined by Oklahoma and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt in filing an original action in United States Supreme Court, seeking a declaration that Colorado’s marijuana legalization process violates the United States Constitution,” Bruning said during a news conference in his Capitol office.

The lawsuit contends Colorado’s legalization of marijuana violates the Controlled Substance Act adopted by Congress in 1970 and the Constitution declares federal law trumps state law. Both Nebraska and Oklahoma claim the Colorado marijuana law has increased the trafficking of the drug in neighboring states, causing an unnecessary burden on the states.

The Attorney General said Colorado has created a system that legalizes, promotes, and facilitates distribution of marijuana. Bruning added legalizing marijuana in Colorado has led to increased illegal trafficking of marijuana in Nebraska, which he said is being most felt by county law enforcement in Nebraska’s Panhandle.

AUDIO:  Attorney General Jon Bruning announces lawsuit against Colorado marijuana law. [5:30]

Gov. Heineman accuses prison committee of rewriting history (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman accuses a special legislative committee of attempting to rewrite history in its report on the prison sentence miscalculation scandal.

The committee concluded in a report released Monday Gov. Heineman set the tone that led to the prison sentencing miscalculations, because he refused to consider building a new prison to relieve overcrowding.

Committee chairman Sen. Steve Lathrop, a Democrat from Omaha, asserted during a news conference pressure from Heineman to keep the prison population down and avoid building a new prison led to problems within Corrections.

Heineman, a Republican, points out work is underway to reform the state prison system.

“And then you’ve got the Lathrop report, which is really a partisan shot in my opinion,” Heineman tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “He’s trying to rewrite history in the sense that he says, you know a report came out in 2006 (that) we ought to build a new prison.”

The 2006 study forecast the population in Nebraska prisons would exceed 140% of their designed capacity. It projected the need for more prison space.

Lathrop contended that by deciding not to consider prison construction, the governor placed pressure on state Corrections officials to push for controversial programs.

The senator claimed he didn’t see that report.

That’s not true, says Heineman, who says he shared the report with Judiciary Committee Chairman, Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, and made it available to members of the Unicameral.

“For Sen. Lathrop to say he never saw the report, that is totally inaccurate and he’s not being honest with everyone,” according to Heineman.

Heineman says no one in state government wanted to spend $260 million to build a new prison.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Committee outlines state missteps in Nikko Jenkins case (AUDIO)

Nikko Jenkins

Nikko Jenkins

A special legislative committee concludes solitary confinement and a lack of mental health care might well have pushed Nikko Jenkins to murder four people in Omaha.

Nikko Jenkins, convicted of killing four in Omaha after being released from prison, spent most of his time behind bars locked in solitary confinement.

“It illustrates the problem with administrative confinement and it illustrates the problems by not having adequate mental health care,” according to Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha.

Lathrop chaired the Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee, which formed to review the role the state played in the release of Jenkins in 2013. It expanded its charge to study the prison sentence miscalculation scandal.

Jenkins was released from prison after serving his term in late July. Within a month, he began to fulfill the promise he made in confinement; that he would kill once freed.

The committee concludes the state should have sought civil confinement for Jenkins, an option available when an inmate is considered mentally ill and a danger to himself and others.

Sen. Les Seiler of Hastings, vice chairman of the committee, says mental health treatment needs to be restored to the prison system.

“Thirty-one percent of 5,054 people (inmates) have mental health problems and I think when you use (the term) mental health that includes drug addiction and alcohol addiction,” Seiler says. “That also is going to help recidivism.”

Click here for full committee report.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

Committee concludes Corrections pressured into questionable practices (AUDIO)

Sen. Steve Lathrop makes a statement with committee members behind him

Sen. Steve Lathrop makes a statement with committee members behind him

A special legislative committee concludes Gov. Dave Heineman set the tone that led to the prison sentencing miscalculations, because he refused to consider building a new prison to relieve overcrowding.

Committee chairman, Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, acknowledges the committee never made a direct connection between Gov. Heineman and various questionable practices to release prisoners, but uncovered a pattern at the Department of Correctional Services to skirt the law and ignore court decisions to relieve prison overcrowding.

“In our judgment, overcrowding began to drive the policy decisions and the behavior of the staff at the Department of the Corrections,” according to Lathrop.

A 2006 study forecast the population in Nebraska prisons would exceed 140% of their designed capacity. It projected the need for more prison space. But that costs money and Lathrop says the governor decided against proposing money for prison construction.

Lathrop contends that by deciding not to consider prison construction, the governor placed pressure on state Corrections officials to push for controversial programs.

Lathrop says creation of the Re-Entry Furlough Program didn’t follow proper procedures, either through the state legislature or through the Administrative Procedures Act and, though it was to exclude violent offenders, 162 inmates convicted of violent crimes were released through the program. Lathrop says the creation of the Temporary Alternative Placement Program is an example of Corrections’ willingness to ignore the law.

“Overcrowding was driving policy at the Department of Corrections in two respects: move people out and don’t bring people back,” Lathrop says.

The committee has released a 62-page report of its findings and recommendations. Click here to access the reports.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [1 min.]

AUDIO:  Sen. Steve Lathrop discusses Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee report. [27 min.]