Panelists Discuss State Of Nebraska Prisons

A series of panel discussions on Nebraska prison issues continued Sunday night. The latest numbers show that Nebraska's prison system is severly over crowded and growing at rate of 27 new inmates per month. There are around 4,200 inmates in the state's prisons right now. Soon, the prisons will be at 140 percent capacity. It's estimated that each inmate costs the state about $27,000 dollars per year. Panelists wondered if locking up so many people is really in the public interest.  Panelists say the homicide rate in Nebraska hasn't been this low in forty years, and violent crime rates are also down, so why we keep sending non-violent offenders to prison? Nebraska state senator Dwite Pedersen says all the public hears about are the bad crimes, when in fact, they account for less than twenty percent of crime.  Pedersen says for the most part, the public is not as informed as they could be. The public wants to be safe and make sure that violent criminals are locked up, so they pass more laws to be tougher on crime.  But that only means spending more money and building up already crowded prisons. Other panelists advocated additional help for victims of crime, like reparation programs for medical costs.  There is one more panel discussion in the series.  It will be held next Sunday, October 30th, from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Church on 6300 A Street in Lincoln.  It will focus on community-centered alternatives.