A group of state senators says the Unicameral must continue to press for legislation to ease overcrowded conditions in Nebraska prisons.
The group held a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda to outline legislation filed for this session, mostly an outgrowth of the work completed by the Special Oversight Committee on Corrections created by Legislative Resolution 127.
State lawmakers have concentrated on the Department of Correctional Services for the past few sessions and the urgency of the work has grown with the prison population. Nebraska prisons stand at 155% of designed capacity, crowded enough to trigger a lawsuit by the ACLU which claims the prison population now violates the constitutional rights of inmates.
Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln calls for additional programming for prisoners.
“Which is directly related to why we have this overcrowding,” Pansing Brooks tells reporters. “Parole Board says, no, you can’t get out, you haven’t had your anger management, or you haven’t had your addiction programming, or you haven’t had the key core programs. So, let’s figure out what the problem is and, then, start getting funds to help pay for that programming.”
Pansing Brooks sponsors a bill which would require the Department of Correctional Services and the Board of Parole to develop an accelerated parole review plan.
Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln says legislators must act in wake of the lawsuit filed by ACLU Nebraska, which contends overcrowding violates the constitutional rights of inmates.
“So, I think we literally have to think outside the box here and think about how we can provide community-based programming and services in a safe, fair, rehabilitative manner,” according to Bolz. “I think what we learned through partnerships with Probation and Parole is that there are possibilities.”
Bills filed this session would require the Department of Correctional Services to conduct a system-wide staffing analysis, prohibit double-bunking inmates in restrictive housing, and provide for the medical release of terminally ill or permanently incapacitated inmates. Another bill would direct Corrections to implement longevity pay for its employees.
The senators holding the news conference indicate support of state Corrections Director Scott Frakes, who has taken heat over the pace of progress in Corrections.
Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, an independent candidate for governor, says he believes Frakes has a sense of urgency about the problem, but questions the commitment of Gov. Pete Ricketts.
“I do believe that he is capable of solving the problems and of turning the department around,” Krist says. “Whether or not he is allowed to is another question. So, my confidence is in the director to do the right thing. Whether his boss is going to let him do the right thing or not is questionable.”