Gov. Dave Heineman says he hasn’t had time to thoroughly consider the prison reform bill sent to him by the legislature, but says Nebraska needs to do whatever it can to avoid building a new prison.
Heineman says he’s still reviewing, LB 907, a $14.5 million prison reform measure. He hopes it fits with a long-term strategy.
“And, what can we do to avoid building a new prison? That’s very, very costly. I think most of us don’t want to do that. That’s $120-150 million expense that, frankly, I’d rather see us invest in education,” Heineman tells reporters during a news conference.
Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, told colleagues during legislative flood debate the intent of LB 907 is two-fold, to keep non-violent offenders out of prison and to keep inmates from returning once released from prison.
The bill proposes increasing the use of supervised release from prison as well as job training and educational programs to reduce the number of inmates returning to prison after their release. Alcohol and substance abuse programs will be offered as well as mental health services.
Nebraska houses about 4,600 prisoners, well above the designed capacity of 3,175 inmates.
Even as the legislature acted on the problem, the state moves forward with an agreement with the Council of State Governments to develop a long-term strategy to ease overcrowding; except that the governor will not call it overcrowding.
Heineman suggests the prison population issue needs to be evaluated not just on the overall population, but how each institution handles its inmates.
“I have talked repeatedly to the directors of the department of corrections,” Heineman says. “They’re comfortable they can manage the current system and I rely on their advice in that regard.”
The legislature failed to deal with the state “good time” law that automatically credits inmates with a reduction in their sentence. Heineman called for a revision in light of the Nikko Jenkins case. Jenkins has been accused of killing four people in Omaha after being released from prison.
Heineman proposed changing the law to make inmates earn reductions in their prison sentences, rather than receiving credit for “good time” served automatically.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:40]