Nebraska Declares Overcrowding Emergency in State Prisons
In an effort to help reduce population, parole board chairwoman Roslyn Cotton said that the parole board was accelerating the number of reviews being held. She said that from January to May the board conducted 2,700 hearings and released 1,546 to parole. Nebraska ACLU communications director Sam Petto said, “Cotton proudly noted that three-fifths are granted parole, but to us we kind of put that on its head and say you say 40% aren’t ready to enter the community and that is not a success story to us.”
NDCS Director Scott Frakes assured the public he would not jeopardize their safety. He said they did not plan on releasing any prisoner who did not meet parole requirements. “There’s been speculation that this certification will result in the automatic release of numerous inmates in an effort to reduce the number of people housed,” he said. “This is not correct.”
Frakes said Nebraska could not reduce overall population by selecting from a large pool of low-level, non-violent prisoners whose primary offense was a drug charge for release. Only 14% of the 821 parole-eligible prisoners in the state had drugs as a primary offense. All others had at some primary offense precluding them from the desired category.
Frakes believes the only possible answer for the state is to build a new prison. “Nebraska needs a new prison,” he said. “In order to give taxpayers the best value for their dollars, we need to build for the future.”
Petto said building new prisons just perpetuated the problem. “Again and again what we seem to hear is no expectations that this will reduce overcrowding and that the only solution is building a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of a prison,” he said. “Trying to build new prisons to keep up with the rising prison population has not worked at any time in the last 40 years.” As PLN has observed, building prisons to deal with crime is like building cemeteries to deal with a pandemic.
The ACLU said Nebraska needed to address overcrowding in a new way. Petto suggested starting by addressing Nebraska’s mandatory minimum sentencing scheme and creating stronger, more functionable reentry program as a means of lowering capacity.