Gov. Pete Ricketts expresses confidence the state can avoid a lawsuit over prison crowding, despite a warning issued by the Nebraska ACLU.
Ricketts insists the state is moving in the right direction, both because of work by the legislature and his administration.
“One of the problems we had is that we warehoused people and now we’re trying to change that. But it’s going to take time, right? We were years in the making in the current situation we’re in and it’s not going to get fixed overnight,” Ricketts tells reporters during a news conference at the Capitol.
Still, Nebraska prisons house nearly 2,000 inmates more than designed capacity.
State Corrections Director Scott Frakes wants $26 million to enlarge the Community Corrections Center in Lincoln, adding 160 beds in three years.
Ricketts says the $26 million request is a good investment.
“We also expect that we’ll being coming back with further investments we’re going to need to make in the Corrections system, but we want to do those based upon good evidence and not based upon a gut-level feeling,” according to Ricketts. “And that’s going to take time to pull together.”
Ricketts believes the moves in Nebraska, both by the Unicameral in passing prison sentencing reform last year and efforts by his administration should be sufficient to hold off action by the United States Department of Justice.
The Nebraska ACLU, though, might not see it that way. The ACLU issued a warning on Friday that it might be losing patience with the pace of progress in the prisons.
ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy A. Miller released the following statement:
“The taxpayers of Nebraska want a correctional system that both protects the public and makes smart use of tax dollars. While the ACLU is pleased with recent legislative progress, Nebraska’s prison system is far from achieving the public safety and fiscal concerns many Nebraskans have. The reforms passed in 2015 will take five years to reduce our prison population overcrowding to emergency levels. The proposals for additional funding this session, while better than nothing, would mean three years with constitutional violations such as lack of access to health care, mental health treatment, exercise, ventilation and other concerns repeatedly cited in investigations by the ACLU and the Ombudsman’s office.”
Miller stated the ACLU has been monitoring conditions in Nebraska prisons for three years. She concluded her statement with the following:
“The time to solve these problems is not three or five years from now. The ACLU plans to make a decision in 2016 about pursuing systemic litigation to address the constitutional violations in Nebraska’s prisons that harm public safety and waste tax payer dollars. The Legislature should not pass on its opportunity to make policy decisions that are more certain and efficient for the Department of Corrections and Nebraska taxpayers.”
Ricketts says Nebraska ACLU did not inform his administration of its concerns prior to issuing the news released Friday.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]