Sen. Steve Lathrop objects to Governor Dave Heineman’s response to a legislative committee report on the prison sentence miscalculation scandal.
Lathrop, who chaired the committee, calls Heineman’s criticism of the report as “a partisan shot” a familiar response.
“Attribute something you don’t want to hear to a Democrat and then call it a partisan attack,” Lathrop tells Nebraska Radio Network in a telephone interview.
Lathrop, a Democrat, points out three Democrats, three Republicans, and one independent sat on the committee that investigated the department of corrections and reached a unanimous conclusion. He objects to Heineman, a Republican, calling it partisan and referring to it as the Lathrop report.
“I do think the criticism is unfounded and it is a distraction from the report,” Lathrop says.
The Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee concluded Gov. Heineman set the tone that led to the prison sentencing miscalculations, because he refused to consider building a new prison to relieve overcrowding.
A 2006 study forecast the population in Nebraska prisons would exceed 140% of their designed capacity. It projected the need for more prison space. Lathrop contends that by deciding not to consider prison construction, the governor placed pressure on state Corrections officials to push for controversial programs.
A point of contention between the governor and the committee is whether legislators knew of the 2006 report and its conclusions, and agreed with the governor that Nebraska didn’t want to spend between $150 and $250 million to add prison space.
In an interview with Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN, Gov. Heineman accused the committee of attempting to rewrite history in its report. Heineman told Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln, “He’s (Lathrop) trying to rewrite history in the sense that he says, you know a report came out in 2006 (that) we ought to build a new prison.”
Heineman stated he shared the report with Judiciary Committee Chairman, Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, and made it available to members of the Unicameral. Heineman added no on in state government wanted to build a new prison.
Lathrop wrote Heineman a letter, outlining his objections to comments made in the interview. [PDF of Lathrop letter to Gov. Heineman]
Lathrop insists he never saw the report until the legislative committee subpoenaed it. He adds the legislature never considered the possibility of prison construction, because it was assured by former Corrections Director Bob Houston the prison population was manageable.
Lathrop hopes a new governor and a new legislature will take the committee report seriously.
“I think the important lesson is you can’t simply starve these agencies of resources and substitute pressure on the employees to perform functions that they can’t properly perform without adequate resources,” according to Lathrop.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]