A report from a legislative oversight committee says progress has been made to ease prison overcrowding, but it has come slower than expected.
Judiciary Committee chair, Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete, also chairs the special committee overseeing the Department of Correctional Services. Ebke says the report should send a message to lawmakers.
“Well, I think the most important message is that we need to continue to keep looking at what’s going on in Corrections, that we have seen some slight improvements in some areas, but that we have an abundance of challenges ahead,” Ebke tells Nebraska Radio Network.
Legislation approved in 2015 (Legislative Bill 605) made several changes in an effort to ease prison overcrowding. The legislative package has worked, somewhat, according to Ebke. Legislators had hoped the prison population would drop quicker. Ebke says results seem to be lagging six to eight months behind expectations with some problems emerging with the probation and parole system. A review might be needed if results continue to not meet expectations, according to Ebke.
Nebraska prisons at present stand at 155% of designed capacity. Under new state law, if the prison population continues to exceed 140% of capacity by mid-2020, prisoners might have to be released.
In addition, the ACLU has sued the state, claiming prison overcrowding violates the rights of inmates.
“I think the important thing in order to avoid negative consequences that could come as a result of the lawsuit is to show that we’re making real progress in the right direction,” according to Ebke.
Prison reform will continue to be a top issue as legislators return to the Capitol in two weeks.