An effort to reform the Nebraska criminal justice system with an eye to reducing prison population is underway.
Reforming state sentencing laws and incarceration isn’t easy, according to Gov. Dave Heineman.
“It’s a challenge every single day,” Heineman tells reporters during a news conference in his Capitol office. “Obviously, if the criminals would quit committing crimes then the population would go down overnight. I don’t anticipate that’s likely to happen. So, that is a challenge every day.”
Nebraska prisons are crowded. They hold more than 5,000 inmates, nearly 160% of their capacity.
State lawmakers, worried the state might face a lawsuit, approved LB 907. The law established the 19-member Justice Reinvestment Working Group, with members from all three branches of state government. The group will work with the Council of State Governments Justice Center to review alternatives to prison. The Pew Charitable Trust and the United States Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance will also assist in the study.
Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Heavican says judges try to use alternative sentencing when appropriate.
“Definitely, in some areas of the state, not all those alternatives are available,” Heavican says. “And that becomes a little bit more difficult in the lesser populated areas of the state.”
The sparse population in western Nebraska hampers efforts to provide alternatives to prison, such as drug courts. Heavican says some judicial districts simply don’t have the population base to launch some of the programs.
The working group’s policy recommendations are expected to be delivered at the end of the year.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]