Bills to guide prison reform in 2015

Posted By: Megan Conway

It’s a huge task fixing Nebraska’s prison troubles. From overcrowding to early releases, the corrections system has had better days.

“We didn’t get into this overnight and we’re not going to get out of it overnight,” says Sen. Les Seiler of Hastings. 

The Governor and Senators want to fix it and they have their work cut out for them. 2014 was a bad year for the Department of Corrections. Looking forward, everyone knew 2015 would be a year to reform the system and like Governor Ricketts said in his State of the State address, ‘it’s time to do better.’ 

“We will have to work together: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial for comprehensive reform that includes addressing sentencing, good time laws and facilities management, also mental health,” says Ricketts.

After months of studying what to do about Nebraska’s prison troubles, a group of Senators presented a package of bills offering a list of solutions to problems that desperately need fixed.

“We will face litigation, the ACLU is watching, the Department of Justice is watching. We have an obligation to clean up what is a culture in the Department of Corrections,” says Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha.

The bills address a lot of issues like overcrowding, good time laws and the mental health of inmates. The solutions could cost the state millions. One figure brought up: $33 million, but senators say it could be more. For now, the bills will be used as a guide.

“I’m asking my collegueas to look at these pieces of legislation and absorb them and then take sometime until that new corrections director can get here, get his feet on the ground and tell us if that’s the direction that he wants to go and the governor wants to go.”

nebraska’s prison population reached more than 159 percent of its design capacity last month, with more than 5 thousand 200 inmates.

The senators say this is a problem that continues to grow, so speed is of the essence…

They also say expanding facilities is an option that has *not* been taken off the table.