A proposal for prison reform contends Nebraska can spend a little to save a lot.
An outline for prison reform has been released to state lawmakers by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, advocating for increased supervision of inmates released from prison, the greater use of probation, and improved parole supervision.
Marc Pelka with the Center says it’s worked in other states.
“North Carolina used risk assessment to manage people on supervision, increase treatment, made it more effective,” Pelka tells Nebraska Radio Network. “It also required a period of supervision for everybody leaving prison.”
The Justice Center compiled the report after meeting for months with the 19-member Justice Reinvestment Working Group, with representatives from the Unicameral, as well as Gov. Dave Heineman, and Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican.
The report released by the Justice Center proposes three strategies to reduce the Nebraska prison population from 150% of designed capacity to 138%, which would drop the population to just below the level that triggers an emergency declaration.
The first strategy is to use probation for those convicted of non-violent offenses or drug crimes, keeping them from entering prison.
The second strategy calls for increased supervision of inmates released from prison in an effort to keep them from returning to prison. That strategy also calls for a more concerted effort to collect restitution for the victims of crime.
The third strategy proposes beefing up supervision for those on parole, another attempt to reduce recidivism.
Pelka also is quick to add that the proposal calls for a crack-down on the most serious offenses; violent or sexual in nature. Pelka argues that prison must be reserved for the worst criminals.
Appropriations Committee Chairman, Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, says the Unicameral has a choice.
“One, we could go down the Council of State Governments Justice Center model that they provided our state or we can go down the path of spending a quarter of a billion dollars on building more prison beds,” according to Mello.
The report projects the Nebraska prison population could be lowered by 10% over a five year period. The cost of increasing supervision as well as adding treatment and job training programs is estimated at $32.8 million. That expenditure, according to the report, would allow the state to avoid spending $306.4 million in prison construction.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]