Gov. Dave Heineman expresses surprise that the head of the Nebraska Parole Board says she felt pressure from his administration to parole more inmates to ease prison overcrowding.
Heineman says he met with Nebraska Parole Board chairwoman Esther Casmer along with then-Corrections Director Bob Houston about what could be done to reduce the prison population.
“And she never indicated she was feeling any pressure from Director Houston or anyone else,” Heineman tells reporters during a conference call.
But that is the claim Casmer made to the special legislative committee studying prison miscalculations that led to hundreds of inmates being released from prison prematurely.
Casmer testified that both Houston and Gov. 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 last week. “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.
Heineman denies his administration pressured Casmer and wonders why Casmer didn’t bring her concerns to him.
“Let me just be very clear, in the years I’ve known Esther Casmer, she’s a very strong person,” Heineman says. “Now, I don’t know what’s in her mind, but if she felt that strongly, she had ample opportunity to talk to be about it and chose not to.”
Gov. Heineman appointed Casmer chairwoman in 2005 by Gov. Heineman. She has served on the board for 19 years and plans to retire at the end of February.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]