October 21, 2014

No need for subpoena, Gov. Heineman to testify willingly (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman answers questions at a briefing with reporters

Gov. Dave Heineman answers questions at a briefing with reporters

Gov. Dave Heineman said today he will testify before the special legislative committee investigating the prison sentence miscalculation scandal.

The governor’s remarks came hours after the Department of Correctional Services Special Investigating Committee voted unanimously to subpoena the governor to testify before the committee October 29th.

The special legislative committee first formed to investigate why Nikko Jenkins was released from prison rather than civilly committed. Jenkins killed four in Omaha upon his released last year.

It since has followed up reports first published by the Omaha World-Herald that Corrections officials released hundreds of inmates prematurely, because it ignored two state Supreme Court rulings.

During a meeting with reporters at his Capitol office, Gov. Heineman denied he attended a meeting in which Corrections Director Mike Kenney created a program to allow eight inmates released early to serve the remainder of their sentences at home rather than behind bars. A July 31st memo by former Corrections General Counsel George Green indicates the governor was at the meeting when Kenney proposed the alternative sentencing program.

“No, I’ve never been in a meeting regarding that and Director Kenney indicated this was something he created, he invented,” Heineman told reporters.

The Corrections Director pushed forward with the program, though attorneys with the department questioned its legality.

Heineman said he never considered invoking executive privilege against the subpoena issued by the legislative committee. He suggested he might request the committee withdraw the subpoena and allow him to come to the hearing voluntarily.

“But I’m going to be there one way or another on October 29th, because I look forward to these discussions that we need to have on these issues,” Heineman said.

Heineman also rejects suggestions he pushed for Corrections to release prisoners early to ease prison overcrowding.

“Absolutely not,” Heineman said. “I’ve always said they’re two separate issues. The bad guys need to be in prison no matter what.”

The Department of Correctional Services ignored two state Supreme Court rulings, releasing 200 inmates early and setting early release dates for 550 others. The governor’s office and Corrections officials reported 306 inmates were released prematurely by the department. Many inmates received credit for time served in the community without incident.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [1 min.]

Legislative committee to subpoena Gov. Heineman in prison probe

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman

A special legislative committee looking into the miscalculation of prison sentences has voted to subpoena Gov. Dave Heineman to testify before the committee October 29th.

The committee is following up reports first published by the Omaha World-Herald that reveal prison officials miscalculated the sentences of hundreds of prison inmates, leading to their premature release from incarceration. The World-Herald reported the Department of Correctional Services ignored two state Supreme Court rulings, releasing 200 inmates early and setting early release dates for 550 others.

Gov. Heineman and Corrections officials reported 306 inmates were released prematurely by the department. Many inmates received credit for time served in the community without incident.

The investigation by the legislature took a turn Friday when state Corrections Director Mike Kenney acknowledged he allowed eight prisoners to remain outside prison walls though his legal staff warned against the action.

Gov. Heineman released a written statement though his office.

“I look forward to the opportunity to answer any questions and clear up any miscommunications. The Department of Correctional Services, specifically former legal counsel George Green, made a series of significant mistakes and created a huge mess. Since June, Attorney General Bruning and I have been working diligently and thoughtfully with the new leadership at the Department to fix the problems.”


State Patrol hands Corrections investigation over to prosecutors (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman

A criminal investigation into the prison sentencing miscalculation scandal has been handed over to prosecutors.

Gov. Dave Heineman ordered the Nebraska State Patrol to investigate whether anyone at the Department of Correctional Services broke the law when the department miscalculated prison sentences and released hundreds of inmates prematurely.

“The state patrol has given the report to the two prosecuting attorneys, as you’ve indicated; the Attorney General’s office and the Lancaster County Attorney’s Office,” Heineman told Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “I’ve not seen that report and really shouldn’t at this stage. It’s in the normal law enforcement channels.”

A miscalculation by the Department of Correctional Services led to the release of 306 inmates before they had served their time. Before the mistake 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 for others to return to prison and serve out their time.

The Omaha World Herald broke the story in a special investigative piece. Most of the 306 released were 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.

Investigations since have revealed that the Department of Correctional Services ignored two state Supreme Court rulings in calculating the prison sentences of inmates.

An investigation into whether any criminal charges will be filed has been completed by the Nebraska State Patrol and handed over to both Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly and Attorney General Jon Bruning. Kelly have indicated that a decision on criminal charges should be made by the end of the month.

A special legislative committee has been looking into the actions of the department as well.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Gov. Heineman hopes to avoid losing federal crime fighting money

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman

Gov. Dave Heineman says he hopes the federal government will not pull money targeted to fight crime in Nebraska, because the Nebraska Crime Commission has failed to adequately document how the money is being spent.

The U.S. Justice Department has warned the state that the Crime Commission must account for how it spent five million dollars in federal funds if it expects to receive more money from Washington.

Heineman says if you accept money from Washington, you better be able to account for it.

“The challenge with federal grants all the time is the strings that are attached and then the paperwork,” Heineman tells reporters. “And everybody needs to appreciate, if you are going to take a grant from the federal government, you better be able to produce the receipts or the paperwork to show how you spent it. So, I mean, that’s just part of the process and they’re going to need to go back and get all that documentation.”

Millions of federal dollars targeted for local crime fighting efforts in Nebraska are on hold, until the Justice Department is satisfied the money is being spent as intended.

A state audit disclosed the accounting problem.

Commission Executive Director Darrell Fischer, who inherited the problem, says the staff is working hard to fix the problems. He says federal officials are warning they could demand repayment of previous funds if the problems are not corrected.

Heineman says federal requirements can be daunting.

“I wish there was a way that we could find a way, maybe under a certain dollar limit you don’t have to always provide a thousand sheets of paper to prove you spent $10 here. There’s got to be a better trust and relationship there,” Heineman says. “On the other hand, I don’t have any problem. Every layer of government we should document how that money was spent.”

State sponsored internship program keeps growing

A special state program to encourage college students to accept internships at Nebraska businesses keeps growing.

The Nebraska Internship Program has reached 750 active participants.

Reinke Manufacturing CEO Chris Roth says the program has proven valuable for his operation in the southern Nebraska city of Deshler.

“We had four interns last year working for us through that program,” Roth says. “It gives us an opportunity to evaluate the students. It gives them the opportunity to evaluate us.”

The program which began in 2011 provides $1.5 million in state funding to be matched by the private sector to fund paid internships.

According to the governor’s office half of the college students who participated in the program went to work for the company with which they interned.

Gov. Dave Heineman says the program works both to provide college students with experience and to help businesses fill their workforce needs.

“What the employer sees; they have the opportunity for the internship time, two or three months, to observe what kind of good worker they are and if they’re doing a really good job, they’re going to remember it. They’ve already gotten a proven workforce,” according to Heineman. “So, the employers that I’ve talked to have been very satisfied with that program and we’re going to continue to try to expand it.”

The Nebraska Internship Program was part of Heineman’s economic package approved by the Unicameral in 2011.

According to the governor’s office, over the last three years, 402 companies have participated in the program; 5,301 students have registered online with the program; and 36% of interns participating in the grant program have worked at companies located in rural Nebraska.

The program kicked off in June of 2011 with nearly 80 Nebraska businesses applying for funding through Intern Nebraska. Initially, 45 businesses won approval to participate.

Students interested can apply on online by clicking here. The website also contains other job search tips, such as how to build a resume and how to react during a job interview.

For more on the program, go to InternNE.com.