Easing Nebraska's prison overcrowding will take years, say 2 national experts - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, November 21, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 1:38 am
Easing Nebraska's prison overcrowding will take years, say 2 national experts

LINCOLN — Relieving overcrowding in Nebraska's state prisons and adopting other prison reforms are going to take time.

Two to four years was the estimate provided Wednesday by a pair of national authorities on prison reform.

That would surpass the tenures of Gov. Dave Heineman, who has voiced support for lower-cost reforms rather than new prison construction, and State Sen. Brad Ashford, who is leading the charge on the issue in the Legislature.

But Ashford said there are still initial steps the state can take to address overcrowding, which has hovered at 151 percent of capacity — an overflow of about 1,600 inmates — in recent months.

One step, he said, would be requiring that all inmates on release be supervised by parole officers for several weeks to ensure a safe transition into society.

Such “supervised release,” the Omaha lawmaker said, might have headed off Nikko Jenkins, who stands charged with four slayings within a month of his unsupervised July 30 release from prison.

“There's a number of other offenders who should not get out without some kind of supervision,” Ashford said. “It's a formula for disaster.”

Officials with the Justice Center of the Council of State Governments (CSG) met Wednesday with members of a working group of lawmakers, county attorneys and others involved in the criminal justice system that was hastily formed by Ashford to look at corrections reform.

The CSG has helped 18 other states adopt reforms that cut millions of dollars in corrections spending and enhanced public safety by reducing repeat crimes. Marshall Clement and Marc Pelka, both of CSG, said it would take Nebraska up to four years to make changes to its prison system.

After visiting the past two days with state corrections officials and others, CSG officials said Nebraska's prison overcrowding is among the worst in the nation. But there are proven strategies to address overcrowding, they said.

For instance, North Carolina, which worked with CSG, has seen a 9 percent decrease in inmates, a projected savings of $560 million over the next five years and the closing of five prisons.

The state did it by creating new out-of-prison rehabilitation programs and hiring 175 new employees to supervise inmates on release programs.

Clement said the “science” of what works in effectively dealing with inmates once they leave prison has improved markedly in recent years.

To be successful, Clement said, states must obtain bipartisan support from the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

Toward that end, representatives of the Heineman administration and Nebraska Department of Corrections attended, for the first time, a meeting of the prison reform group.

Earlier this week, the governor told The World-Herald he is willing to talk with anyone, including CSG, in seeking solutions to overcrowding.

CSG officials provided other food for thought:

— About 40 percent of Nebraska inmates leave with no supervision, which risks public safety.

— About 51 percent of inmates who are released without supervision are rearrested within three years.

— Nebraska's prisoner-to-parolee ratio is about 70-to-30, much higher than in other states.

— The percentage of Nebraska inmates with sentences of four years or longer has grown steadily; why is unclear.

Read more on prison overcrowding:

State to partner with think tank to address prison overcrowding, spending

Officials look beyond Nebraska to solve prison overcrowding

Bruning: Nebraska may need a new prison to ease overcrowding

Price tag put on easing Nebraska prison crowding

Using county jail cells to house state inmates could buy time to fix prison overcrowding

Contact the writer: Paul Hammel

paul.hammel@owh.com    |   402-473-9584    |  

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues and helps coordinate the same.

State Department moves to delay Keystone XL pipeline decision
Omahan charged in fatal shooting in Benson neighborhood
Friday's attendance dips at Millard West after bathroom threat
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as a result of Operation Purple Haze
High court denies death row appeal of cult leader convicted of murder
Haze in area comes from Kansas, Oklahoma
Man taken into custody in domestic dispute
Omaha judge reprimanded for intervening in peer attorney's DUI case
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Police seek public's help in finding an armed man
Saturday forecast opens window for gardening; Easter egg hunts look iffy on Sunday
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
A voice of experience: Ex-gang member helps lead fight against Omaha violence
Church is pressing its case for old Temple Israel site
OPPD board holding public forum, open house May 7
The thrill of the skill: Omaha hosts statewide contest for students of the trades
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
When judge asks, Nikko Jenkins says ‘I killed them’
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
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 »