A state senator has introduced a bill to spend more than $261 million to add prison space.
But, he insists he doesn’t want to spend the money.
And he doesn’t want to build a new prison.
Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln says he introduced the measure as a wakeup call for the Unicameral.
“I did introduce this bill not because I want to spend over a quarter of a billion dollars on expanding prison capacity, but more because I don’t want to spend it,” Coash tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “I wanted to give my colleagues a clear picture of the future of Corrections if we did nothing.”
Coash says lawmakers need to understand the cost if they fail to approve prison reform.
A special working group, representing all three branches of government, along with the Council of State Governments Justice Center have proposed a plan to reduce the state prison population below the threshold that prompts an emergency and invites a lawsuit.
Nebraska’s prison population stands at more than 150% of designed capacity. Once the population reaches 140% of capacity, the governor has to decide whether to proclaim an emergency. The Department of Justice and the ACLU both have threatened lawsuits if the prison population isn’t reduced.
The legislature’s Judiciary Committee will be considering a number of bills this session for the Unicameral to consider.
Coash says lawmakers need to know what they would be faced with spending if they fail to enact prison reform.
“Unchecked, our prison population will grow; it’s already grown to a point where it is pushing an unmanageable situation and in the interest of public safety we would have to increase prison capacity,” according to Coash.
Even the $261 million price tag might be a bit deceptive. It represents only the first phase of the Department of Correctional Services Master Plan released last year.
Coash represents hundreds of Corrections employees working in four state and two county Corrections institutions.
Jane Monnich, KLIN, contributed to this story.