December 22, 2014

Gov. Heineman says changes can keep prison numbers down (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman insists Nebraska doesn’t need a new prison and rejects suggestions the prison scandal has tainted his legacy.

Heineman sticks with his insistence that no new prison is needed.

“I believe at this stage, based on all the information that I know, Nebraska does not need to build a new prison,” Heineman tells Nebraska Radio Network in an interview.

A special committee, called the Justice Reinvestment Working Group, has been studying the state prison system. Guided by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, the group included the heads of the three branches of government: Gov. Heineman,

Legislative Speaker Greg Adams of York, and State Chief Justice Michael Heavican. Several state senators also served on the working group.

The working group has made a number of suggestions, including alternative sentencing for non-violent offenders, such as community service rather than prison. It also suggests supervised released for the first six months after an inmate is freed from prison would greatly cut down on the chance they return. A greater reliance on mental health and job training programs could also help keep prisoners from returning once released.

The study revealed that Omaha judges seem more inclined to sentence some non-violent offenders to prison that other judges in the state. Also, Heineman suggests those sentenced to six months or less should serve their time in county jails rather than state prisons.

“I’m still of the opinion if we dealt with those issues, prison population would go down, you wouldn’t need to build a new prison, which would be $250 million or more, and that will take away from investments in education,” according to Heineman.

Heineman dismisses any suggestions that the prison sentence miscalculation scandal, first unearthed through an investigative report by the Omaha World-Herald, will harm his reputation. Heineman says mistakes happen in an organization as large as state government and his duty as governor is to address mistakes and seek to solve them, which he says he has done.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:40]

Deadly weekend in Omaha

Crime Scene TapeA deadly weekend in Omaha during two separate shootings.

The Omaha Police Department reports 25-year-old Kerrington Luker was found lying on a sidewalk, dead of a fatal gunshot wound early Sunday morning in northeast Omaha. Few details of the shooting have been released.

Later, police responded to a second shooting in northeast Omaha. Officers found three wounded men early Sunday evening.

27-year-old Derek Johnson died of his wounds.

28-year-old Jermaine Richey and 24-year-old Demetrion Washington are being treated at a local hospitals.

Reports are that more than 20 shots were fired outside an apartment complex.

Bruning challenges ruling to lift life sentence in juvenile murder case

Attorney General Jon Bruning is challenging a judge’s move to overturn the life sentence of a prison inmate convicted of sexually assaulting and shooting his adopted 12-year-old sister.

York County District Judge James Stecker vacated the life sentence of Sydney Thieszen, convicted of first degree murder in the 1987 sexual assault and murder of 12-year-old Sacha Thieszen at their home near Henderson. Sydney Thieszen was 14 at the time.

Bruning has filed a motion in York County District Court, challenging Stecker’s decision to vacate the life imprisonment sentence.

Stecker based his decision on a 2012 United States Supreme Court ruling that prohibits courts from imposing mandatory life sentences against juveniles. The Nebraska Supreme Court has interpreted the court ruling to apply retroactively.

Bruning argues the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to decide whether its ruling applies retroactively. It is scheduled to hear a Louisiana case next year on whether the ruling should apply to cases decided prior to its 2012 decision.

The Attorney General’s Office has asked Judge Stecker to reconsider his ruling, reinstate the life sentence and wait to see what the U.S. Supreme Court decides.

Final finalist makes pitch for University of Nebraska presidency

index_big[1]The last of four finalists for the presidency of the University of Nebraska wrapped up a four day visit this week.  Dr. Sally Rockey is currently the deputy director for extramural research for the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Rockey’s visit this week included open forums at each NU campus, meetings with key university constituents and a public interview with the Board of Regents.  One of many priorities revolves around the student.

Dr. Rockey says, “When you talk about students we often talk about students with an “s”.  Really we can talk about the student and precision education which means how do we really, for that student, get that right access to right content, at the right time, for the right value.  And we can think about what the student wants and develop programs around what the student needs.”

The other finalists that visited Nebraska earlier include Dr. George Ross, president of Central Michigan University. Dr. Hank Bounds, commissioner of higher education for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning and Dr. Michael Martin, chancellor of the Colorado State University System.

Nebraska unemployment rate dips to 3.1%

workerNebraska’s unemployment rate dropped, again.

The state Department of Labor reports the preliminary unemployment rate for November dipped to 3.1%, down three-tenths of a percent from October.

The labor news gets even better for the state’s two major cities. The Omaha metro area unemployment rate stands at 3% with the Lincoln rate dropping to 2.1%.

The national unemployment rate is 5.8%

Click here for full details on labor statistics.