Attorney General Doug Peterson cautions that the Unicameral needs to be careful as it considers revising the criminal code in an effort to reduce the prison population.
Peterson says some of the discussion about reducing the prison population concerns him.
“There have been studies that have come out, certainly talking about the overpopulation issue,” Peterson tells Nebraska Radio Network. “We don’t want that to be such a primary focus that we lose also the recognition that there are actually people out there who have shown through their criminal records that they are dangerous and do need to be incarcerated.”
Nebraska’s prison population has topped 5,000 inmates and stands at nearly 160% of designed capacity.
A study during the legislative interim by a 19-member Justice Reinvestment Working Group suggests a revision of the state criminal code could keep some non-violent offenders out of prison. The group, with members from all three branches of state government, was guided by a consultant from the Council of State Governments Justice Center.
The study further suggests a greater use of probation as well as county jails for those sentenced to a year or less could ease crowded conditions.
Peterson says he understands there are creative ways to reduce the prison population, but he says any steps must be taken cautiously.
“We look at the public safety issue and I believe that as the Attorney General’s office, I have to be echoing the voices of law enforcement that say let’s recognize that in this overcrowding issue there are some people that do need to be incarcerated,” according to Peterson.
Peterson says care must be taken if legislators undertake the rewriting of the state criminal code.
“People who are dangerous, who we’ve tried other options within our justice system should be in jail and we would hate to see those people not be incarcerated simply because the overcrowding issue was such a concern to the legislature that they compromise safety.”
The legislature hopes changes within prison and with the state criminal code will reduce the prison population and avoid spending $261 million to add prison beds. It is estimated the state will have to spend between $33-to-45 million to implement changes to reduce prison populations.