Published Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 4:16 pm
tougher approach proposed
World-Herald editorial: A good step on good time

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services took a positive step this week in proposing to double the amount of automatic good time the state can take from inmates who misbehave in prison.

But it was just one step.

This proposed change is a good start toward other changes needed to improve public safety and accountability after a recently released inmate was charged in four Omaha slayings. That inmate, Nikko Jenkins, had been violent while behind bars, and the state could have kept him in prison longer, even under current rules.

Prison officials had the power to revoke more of Jenkins’ automatic good time but didn’t. Such reluctance to send a message to out-of-bounds inmates unfortunately appears common. World-Herald staff writers Matt Wynn and Paul Hammel examined more than 92,000 infractions Nebraska prison officials wrote up for punishment over the past five years and found that inmates lost good time in fewer than 5 percent of the cases.

It’s generally accepted that awarding good time — and allowing sentences to be shortened — serves as a valuable tool for managing inmates. It clearly provides an incentive for good behavior behind bars.

But good time in other states typically is earned with good behavior. Nebraska used to work that way. A 1992 change to state law eliminated the requirement for inmates to demonstrate good behavior and made good time essentially automatic, effectively cutting most prison sentences in half.

That legislation also made the process more cumbersome for prison officials to take away any good time, which is why the prison system’s proposal to increase penalties for inmate misbehavior is a solid first step.

Prison officials also need a clear plan to more consistently pursue an even-handed process for revoking prisoners’ good time when they resort to violence, break the law or breach serious prison rules.

Of the 92,248 inmate infractions over the past five years, less than 1 percent involved murders, assaults and escape attempts, according to The World-Herald’s analysis. Getting tougher with good time for those offenders shouldn’t overload Nebraska’s crowded prison system.

There is a role for the Legislature, too, with lawmakers likely to consider good-time changes as part of a wide array of prison and sentencing reforms plus prison alternatives for nonviolent offenders in 2014.

Much of the administrative gymnastics required to take good time away from troublesome inmates could be avoided with some common-sense changes to the 1992 law.

Good time should be earned, not given freely. It’s hard to call something an incentive if it is awarded automatically and then made difficult to lose.

Parents, think of it this way: How likely are your kids to eat their vegetables if they get dessert first? Yet that’s what Nebraska does.

The state’s prisons are crowded, with about 1,600 more inmates today than they were designed to hold.

Lawmakers will consider a range of options, from spending $130 million or more on a new prison to enhancing and expanding alternatives for nonviolent offenders that potentially could free up space for violent criminals.

These are serious issues.

But so, too, is granting early release to someone like Nikko Jenkins, whose prison record included inciting a riot, committing at least three assaults, trying to escape and being caught with a weapon.

For his behavior — hardly good — he lost only 17 months of “good time.”

8% of alcohol sellers checked in Omaha area last week sold booze to minors
OPS bus, SUV collide; no students onboard at the time
Waitress who served alcohol to teen before fatal crash gets jail time, probation
Lori Jenkins, charged as accessory in 4 murders, waives speedy trial
Iowa State servers hacked, nearly 30,000 SSNs at risk
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
2nd District House race: After 8 terms, Lee Terry knows how D.C. works — and doesn't
Bellevue man is killed at Minnesota dance hall after South Sudanese basketball tourney
Spring corn planting still sputters in Nebraska, Iowa, other key states
Nebraska banking and finance director to retire
19-year-old killed in one-vehicle crash at 72nd & Shirley
Gov. Heineman vetoes bill to ease restrictions on nurse practitioners
U.S. Senate race: State Auditor Mike Foley defends Shane Osborn against ad campaign
Public defender to represent Nikko Jenkins in sentencing
Mid-America Center on track for lower operating loss
Bluffs City Council approves dozens of new numbered street lights
National Law Enforcement Memorial Week set for May
Ted Cruz backs Pete Ricketts' campaign for governor
Omahan charged with 5th-offense DUI after street race causes rollover
2 blocks of Grover Street closed
Safety board report blames pilot error in 2013 crash that killed UNO student, passenger
Omaha man accused in shooting ordered held on $75,000 bail
2 men charged with conspiracy to distribute meth held on $1 million bail each
La Vista plans meeting on sales tax proposal, 84th Street redevelopment
6-mile stretch of Highway 75 is the road not taken
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Breaking Brad: Into the claw machine! Florida kid follows Lincoln kid's lead
In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a child climbed inside a claw machine. Hey, Florida kid: Nobody likes a copycat.
Breaking Brad: Even Chuck Hassebrook's throwing mud!
The Nebraska campaigns have turned so ugly, Democrat Chuck Hassebrook lobbed unfounded accusations at an imaginary opponent.
Breaking Brad: Kraft wiener recall is business opportunity for TD Ameritrade Park
Instead of returning the wieners, TD Ameritrade Park is calling them "cheese dogs" and charging double.
Breaking Brad: Photos with the Easter Bunny are so 2010
In a sign of the times, most kids ran out of patience waiting for a photo with the Easter Bunny at the mall, just snapped a selfie and went home.
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
A World War II veteran from Omaha will return this week to Europe to commemorate a tragedy in the run-up to D-Day.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Steam-A-Way Carpet Cleaning
$50 for 3 rooms and a Hallway up to 600 square feet
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »