A special legislative committee will investigate the state prison system under a resolution approved by the Unicameral.
State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha sponsors LR 424, pushed in response to the case of Nikko Jenkins, accused of killing four in Omaha after being released from prison last summer.
“This particular committee is not put together to politicize Nikko Jenkins or the tragic death of four people,” Lathrop told colleagues during legislative floor debate.
Lathrop said the committee is being formed for two reasons. One, because the public deserves to know how Jenkins was permitted to be released and walk the streets of Omaha and two, because the legislature needs to know more about the administration of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services.
Lathrop told legislators they have a duty to investigate the steps taken by the department that led to Jenkins’ release.
“He told them that he was going to get out and hurt people. He wasn’t going to just hurt his own people, he was going out to west Omaha to go door-to-door and kill some people in west Omaha and they would not commit him to the regional center,” Lathrop stated. “Instead, they released him and we need to know why and the public needs to know why.”
Jenkins is accused of killing four people in Omaha three weeks after being released from prison on July 30th of last year. He was sentenced to prison on robbery and assault charges as well as a weapons charge.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha says the investigation will not blame corrections for the deaths.
“And, Sen. Lathrop is correct in saying that we cannot make the department of corrections culpable for the specific acts of Nikko Jenkins, but they created the monster that was put out among us,” Chambers told lawmakers during debate. “They created a monster as sure as Victor Frankenstein created a monster when he built Adam.”
A state ombudsman report concluded corrections officials ignored signs given by Jenkins that he would commit acts of violence upon release. Ombudsman report on Nikko Jenkins
One state senator, though, offered a different perspective.
Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln said overcrowded prisons in Nebraska pose a real threat to those who work there, especially prison guards.
“The corrections facility that I am most concerned about is the D&E (Diagnostic and Evaluation Center) center right here in Lincoln,” Coash said. “This is the center where everybody starts. And it is busting at the seams. And it is providing for, in my estimation, a powder keg.”
The Nebraska prison system has a designed capacity of 3,175 inmates. At present, Nebraska prisons house 4,730 inmates, creeping toward 150% of capacity.
Lathrop warned that the overcrowded conditions invite a lawsuit if the Unicameral doesn’t act.
AUDIO: Sen. Steve Lathrop closes on LR 424 [2 min.]