The chairman of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee says the Unicameral needs to try to reduce the prison population before even considering adding prison beds.
Judiciary Committee Chairman, State Sen. Les Seiler of Hastings, is confident state lawmakers will consider a number of bills aimed at easing prison overcrowding.
“Well, I think they’ll take a real strong look at it,” Seiler tells Nebraska Radio Network. “We may have some tweaking (to do) and I welcome that, but I think it’s a lot less money spent and more bank for the bucks.”
Seiler expects his committee to send between six to eight bills for the Unicameral to consider. Many will request a return to mental health and substance abuse programs in the prisons, an effort to prepare inmates to return to society upon release and give them the tools needed to not return. Seiler estimates that as many as 30% of the inmates in state prisons suffer from mental or substance abuse.
Job training has also been touted as a method to help inmates prepare for release.
It is estimated the programs will cost between $33 and 45 million over the next five years.
The price tag for building a new prison, or at least adding prison beds, is well known at the Capitol. One bill spells out the cost, asking the legislature to appropriate $261 million for prison construction.
Seiler questions the wisdom of making such an expenditure which is projected to make such a small reduction in the prison population.
“Well, it’s alright to look and see what money you would expend, but look at the result. Two percent? It doesn’t take long to get back over that 40% and we haven’t accomplished anything,” Seiler says.
A prison population that tops 140% of the designed capacity of Nebraska prison invites a lawsuit against the state, either from the American Civil Liberties Union or from the United States Department of Justice.
At present, Nebraska prisons hold more than 5,000 inmates, which is nearly 160% of designed capacity.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]