LINCOLN, Neb. — A group of government officials have recently developed a list of solutions for the growing number of prisoners in Nebraska. To name a few, the lawmakers came to the agreement that the state needed to expand their mental and behavioral health services, sentence reforms and probation services. Most prisons in the state have overshot their maximum capacity by almost 50 percent. For example, the Omaha Correctional Center is 192 percent over maximum capacity. This overpopulation is resulting in places like the state Diagnostic and Evaluation Center in Lincoln, which serves as a transition facility before inmates go to an actual prison, to be 307 percent over maximum capacity.
“Fixing our broken prison system is the number-one issue that the legislature needs to address in the upcoming session,” said Appropriations Chairman Heath Mello.
The state will need to act quickly on the matter, as several civil liberties groups and even the federal government could sue the state over the conditions and overcrowding. In total, the number of convicted inmates was around 5,200 this past month, which is one and a half times greater than the actual capacity. And that number is only going to grow unless something is done about it.
Along with the poor awareness of inmate capacity, Department of Corrections officers and officials have been critiqued highly as of late. Such criticisms came about due to their incompetence when calculating the prison sentences given to each inmate by the Supreme Court, resulting in these correction officers releasing hundreds of prisoners too early.
One of those prisoners in particular was Nikko Jenkins, who ended up brutally murdering four people in Omaha soon after his release from prison. As a result to these issues, state officials have released several probable reforms to solve these issues in Nebraska. One position that they proposed was a state prison ‘watchdog’ position, where the elected person would answer directly to the elected State Legislature. The elected official would also provide measures to expand mental health, as well as probation services within the prisons. The Legislature also desires the state habitual offender law to change so that only defendants committing violent crimes will be under scrutiny, resulting in lower numbers of habitual offenders.
Legislature also desires for the reduction of inmate segregation. With all of these incorporations, including the watchdog program and increased mental health and probation services, the state would only in theory have to spend around $33 million. This amount would only be spent on renovations, remodels and additions, and would not require an estimated $306 million that the state would need to build a whole new prison. As long as the state develops these mental health and probation programs, the populations inside the correctional facilities should decrease. Without these special programs, recently released prisoners end up violating their parole and back in the prison they just left.
“By the end of this legislative session we have to be able to provide Nebraskans a road map of how we’re going to move forward with our overcrowded prisons,” said Mello in concluding remarks about the situation.