A special legislative committee concludes Gov. Dave Heineman set the tone that led to the prison sentencing miscalculations, because he refused to consider building a new prison to relieve overcrowding.
Committee chairman, Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, acknowledges the committee never made a direct connection between Gov. Heineman and various questionable practices to release prisoners, but uncovered a pattern at the Department of Correctional Services to skirt the law and ignore court decisions to relieve prison overcrowding.
“In our judgment, overcrowding began to drive the policy decisions and the behavior of the staff at the Department of the Corrections,” according to Lathrop.
A 2006 study forecast the population in Nebraska prisons would exceed 140% of their designed capacity. It projected the need for more prison space. But that costs money and Lathrop says the governor decided against proposing money for prison construction.
Lathrop contends that by deciding not to consider prison construction, the governor placed pressure on state Corrections officials to push for controversial programs.
Lathrop says creation of the Re-Entry Furlough Program didn’t follow proper procedures, either through the state legislature or through the Administrative Procedures Act and, though it was to exclude violent offenders, 162 inmates convicted of violent crimes were released through the program. Lathrop says the creation of the Temporary Alternative Placement Program is an example of Corrections’ willingness to ignore the law.
“Overcrowding was driving policy at the Department of Corrections in two respects: move people out and don’t bring people back,” Lathrop says.
The committee has released a 62-page report of its findings and recommendations. Click here to access the reports.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1 min.]
AUDIO: Sen. Steve Lathrop discusses Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee report. [27 min.]