Chairwoman Esther Casmer said both former state Corrections Director Bob Houston and Gov. Dave Heineman’s Chief of Staff, Larry Bare, pressured her to parole more prisoners after the prison population exceeded 140% of capacity.
“I was constantly being told by the Director of the Department of Corrections how many people the board should parole on a monthly basis in order to keep the numbers down,” Casmer told the legislative committee during a public hearing at the Capitol. “No, I did not comply.”
Casmer testified pressure began to mount in 2008 to move inmates out of prison and onto parole before they had completed rehabilitation.
Casmer said Houston was a regular visitor to her office and, one time, provided a quota for releasing inmates.
“But it didn’t stop there,” Casmer said. “It continued each month. He was always saying that we got to get these people out of here and in doing so he wanted the numbers to increase.”
Casmer said both former Corrections Houston and Heineman Chief of Staff Bare made it known that they wanted more prisoners paroled to reduce the prison population.
Committee chairman, Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, probed further.
“You talked about the director coming into your office frequently, reminding you that he had heard from the governor’s Chief of Staff and that he would on those occasions exert pressure for you to parole more people. Did you ever have a meeting with the governor’s Chief of Staff where that was the subject?” Lathrop asked.
“Yes,” was Casmer’s reply.
Casmer was appointed chairwoman in 2005 by Gov. Heineman. She has served on the board for 19 years and plans to retire at the end of February.
Jane Monnich, KLIN, contributed to this story.