A plan to add prison beds and expand programs in Corrections has met with some skepticism from members of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee.
State Corrections Director Scott Frakes wants $26 million to enlarge the Community Corrections Center in Lincoln, adding 160 beds in three years.
Appropriations Committee Chairman, Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, questioned during a recent legislative hearing whether that’s enough beds soon enough to hold off a prison-overcrowding lawsuit.
“What are we going to be between now and those three years when we see a very small increase in design capacity and still possibly be at risk for a federal lawsuit that will require us the to release inmates against our will?” Mello asked.
Frakes replied he believes the state is showing enough progress to avoid a lawsuit.
“When we met with the ACLU some seven-eight months ago, the focus that they talked about and that I’ve seen in court cases has been around ‘deliberate indifference’,” according to Frakes.
Frakes added that is when courts have intervened in state correctional departments, ordering states to release inmates to ease overcrowding.
Nebraska houses 5,300 inmates in 10 prisons with 1,000 former inmates on parole. It has nearly 2,000 more inmates that its prisons are designed to hold, prompting the worries about a federal lawsuit.
Frakes told lawmakers the $26 million dollars for capital improvements and an additional $18 million for operating expenses would allow the Department of Correctional Services to ease some overcrowding, but also to add programs designed to keep prisoners from returning after being released.
Criminal sentencing reforms enacted by the Unicameral will not become effective for five years.
Frakes said there is no short-term way to ease prison overcrowding, but he assured lawmakers the state is taking the right steps toward that goal.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports. [:50]