Lathrop calls for special investigation into state's handling of Nikko Jenkins case - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 11:22 am / Updated at 2:20 am
Lathrop calls for special investigation into state's handling of Nikko Jenkins case

LINCOLN — The Nebraska Legislature would conduct a special investigation into the state's handling of former state prison inmate Nikko Jenkins under a proposal offered Thursday by State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha.

The creation of a special investigative committee, Lathrop said, would better allow state lawmakers to fully understand why Jenkins was released from prison without losing more “good time” and without officials considering him for commitment to a mental hospital.

Jenkins, a mentally troubled inmate who made several homicidal threats while behind bars, stands charged in four slayings in Omaha shortly after his release from prison on July 30.

“We should be very clear that this isn't excusing what the guy did,” Lathrop said. “But I think the Legislature should get to the bottom of why we passed up every opportunity to put this guy in the regional center or take away his good time.”

The creation of a special investigative committee, Lathrop said, would better allow state lawmakers to fully understand why Jenkins was released from prison without losing more “good time” and without officials considering him for commitment to a mental hospital.

Jenkins, a mentally troubled inmate who made several homicidal threats while behind bars, stands charged in four slayings in Omaha shortly after his release from prison on July 30.

“We should be very clear that this isn't excusing what the guy did,” Lathrop said. “But I think the Legislature should get to the bottom of why we passed up every opportunity to put this guy in the regional center or take away his good time.”

The proposal to create the “Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee” comes on the heels of a State Ombudsman's report that questioned why Jenkins wasn't offered mental health treatment while in segregation and why the department didn't seek a mental health commitment.

The report detailed several threats made by Jenkins to kill people upon his release.

State prison officials have said that Jenkins was not mentally ill, and that under state law, they had no choice but to release him from prison upon completion of his sentence.

A state corrections spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday on the introduction of the investigation resolution because a civil lawsuit has been filed seeking damages from the state. A spokeswoman for Gov. Dave Heineman also declined a request for comment.

The case has raised questions about the adequacy of mental health treatment in state prisons and whether Jenkins should have lost more good time for assaults and other misbehavior, thus extending his stay behind bars.

Heineman and others have called for changing the state's good-time law to require violent criminals to “earn” any reduction in their sentences.

Current state law gives inmates a one-day reduction in their sentence for every day served in prison, if they behave. The governor has said such “automatic” good time shouldn't be granted to those convicted of violent or serious crimes.

But others, including Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, have said that good time wasn't the key issue in the Jenkins case and that he would have gotten out of prison anyway.

Ashford has proposed a requirement that such inmates undergo a period of “supervised release” as they near the end of their sentence.

He said Thursday that he supported the idea of a special committee, which could, if needed, compel production of documents and testimony.

“The report by the ombudsman was so graphic and so disturbing, we need to know as a government what went wrong,” Ashford said.

Lathrop, in his resolution proposing the special probe, said that the Corrections Department disputed the ombudsman's report without elaboration and that Heineman's response was to accuse the ombudsman of being “soft on crime.”

Legislative Resolution 424 calls for the report to investigate whether prison overcrowding played a role in the Jenkins case and to look at policies related to isolation of prisoners in segregated cells and supervision of inmates upon their release.

Lathrop, an attorney, has experience is such probes.

He headed a special legislative committee that looked into problems at the Beatrice State Developmental Center, including the deaths of some residents.

That investigation prompted changes in how developmentally disabled persons are treated in the state.

Lathrop said Thursday that the recent ombudsman's report was the “most concerning” report he'd read about a state agency since a federal Justice Department report about troubles at the Beatrice center.


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Contact the writer: Paul Hammel

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

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

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