A study backs the contention of some state lawmakers that a few changes could ease prison overcrowding in Nebraska and ensure that fewer prisoners return to crime upon release.
Center for Effective Justice Director Marc Levin with the Texas Public Policy Foundation says Nebraska prisons now are 40% over capacity and are projected to reach 188% of capacity in just a few years.
“And, of course, that has issues not only in terms of the cost of this growth and the prison population, and the budget for prisons has more than doubled over the last 15 years, but it’s also very difficult to have programming in prisons that are overcrowded,” Levin tells reporters during a Capitol news conference. “So, that leads to more recidivism and, of course, you also have issues of managing in terms of disruptions in prison that are associated with overcrowding.”
Levin has written a policy study published by the Platte Institute ahead of a legislative hearing on LB 907 and LB 999, both sponsored by Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha as part of his push for prison reform this year.
Levin’s study suggests changes in property and drug laws to keep non-violent offenders out of prison, an increase in the use of supervision upon release from prison, better focus on the mental health issues of prisoners as well as an end to many mandatory minimum sentences could greatly ease prison overcrowding.
Levin says nearly half of the inmates Nebraska releases from prison have no post-prison supervision requirements.
“When they’re released without supervision, there’s no leverage, there’s no follow-up to ensure that they maintain some sort of continuity of care and it can be very dangerous when someone goes off their medications suddenly,” Levin says. “So, this will ensure these folks can be followed up with and both appropriately supervised and treated upon re-entry.”
Levin says some mandatory minimum sentence requirements in Nebraska seem overly harsh.
“You might have two 18-year-olds, brother and sister, sharing a little marijuana or with friends and, again, it’s not a trivial offense. It should be punished, but we would ask does it need to be a one-year mandatory minimum? Why don’t we give judges discretion to look at the facts of the case? Is this a first time offender? What’s their risk assessment score and do they really need to be incarcerated or could they be in a drug court?”
Levin says some of the state property crime sentences also are too harsh.
AUDIO: Center for Effective Justice Director Marc Levin talks about prison reform at Platte Institute news conference. [12:45]