State officials say they will seek a number of measure to ease prison overcrowding and keep from building news prisons.
Attorney General Jon Bruning says more prisoners could be sent to the McCook Work Ethic Camp or housed in county jails; other methods could be used to ease a prison population 50% above designed capacity.
“I don’t believe Nebraska incarcerates too many people,” Bruning says. “I think Sen. (Ernie) Chambers, Sen. (Brad) Ashford done a good job of twisting the debate to a place where, for some reason, people think in Nebraska we’ve incarcerated too many people.”
Bruning discusses numbers to back his point.
He says the 4,600 inmates in Nebraska prisons represents ¼ of 1% of the state population. That actually compares favorably with a couple of our neighbors. Missouri incarcerates ½ of 1% of its population. Iowa locks up 1/3 of 1% of its population.
Still, a prison population of 4,600 is well over the designed capacity of the state prison system, which is 3,175 inmates.
Dewberry Architects, a consultant for the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, proposes building three new facilities to ease prison overcrowding. Its preliminary report suggests a 300-bed expansion in Omaha, adding 200 beds to the Community Corrections Center in Lincoln, and providing an additional 340 beds for elderly and mentally ill inmates at the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center in Lincoln.
The price tag for such an expansion is difficult to pin down, but could total as much as $130 million.
Gov. Dave Heineman emphasizes that the Dewberry report is only a draft report for now. The final report will be considered along with recommendations from the Council of State Government’s Justice Center in addressing the state prison population.
Heineman says he stands adamantly against building a new prison.
“My hope is that we don’t have to build another prison. No one wants to do that.”
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:40]