Nebraska hopes to avoid building a new prison, and is receiving some help with ideas to reform the corrections system, to reduce the number of inmates, and to keep from having to spend millions on more prison cells.
A full-time researcher has been assigned Nebraska by the Council of State Governments as the state works toward prison reform.
Council of State Governments Program Director Marc Pelka says examples of reform will be taken from other states, but shaped specifically to Nebraska.
“We’ll be applying examples from other states. Every state is unique and this will be a Nebraska project and a Nebraska solution,” Pelka says. “But, there are a number of states surrounding this state and other parts of the country that experience similar challenges and to the extent we can apply those cases to the working group, we will be happy to do so.”
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 Trusts and the United States Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance will also assist in the study.
State officials estimate building a new prison could cost as much as $150 million.
Data is already being compiled by the researcher from the Council of State Governments; data from Probation and Administration, data from the Crime Commission, as well as data from other state agencies.
The first big case study on what the council calls justice reinvestment was Texas in 2007. Pelka says it worked there, with reform reducing the prison population, allowing Texas to scrap plans to add 14,000 prison beds to its system.
It since has been tried in 17 other states, with success, according to Pelka. Two years ago, North Carolina beefed up its probation and parole supervision system. Pelka says North Carolina moved resources into communities and responded more strongly to violations, reducing its prison population.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]