by Harold Hempstead
On January 28, 2022, when Sheriff Steve Hespen retired after 35 years in Dodge County, Nebraska, he left behind unanswered a charge from the state Jail Standards Board (JSB) that the county jail was almost two years out of compliance in documenting admissions and releases.
That charge came the month before, in a letter from JSB Chair Keith Harvat on December 21, 2021, saying that the Dodge County Jail data had not been submitted to the Nebraska Crime Commission since the lockup was first found non-compliant at a JSB meeting on February 4, 2020.
Harvat blamed the county’s software service vendor for not submitting the records and said that despite attempts by the Crime Commission’s Systems and Research Division to “resolve the situation” that it “does not appear to be near resolution.”
He told Sheriff Hespen that JSB wanted to know what his plan was to resolve the situation, stressing that the needed data “is used for jail planning for local jurisdictions and for multiple legislative purposes by the Nebraska Legislature.”
By that time, however, Hespen had already tendered his retirement letter. County leaders tapped Deputy Chief Bob Reynolds to serve as interim Sheriff after Hespin’s departure. So far there has been no word on his plans to bring the 150-bed jail into compliance.
The county is also one of six possible locations for a new state prison to replace the aging Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. State Department of Corrections Director Scott Frakes has a plan to spend $270 million on that construction, but he is getting pushback all around.
At a hearing on February 3, 2022, when Frakes asked the Legislative Appropriations Committee for the money, the chairman, state Sen. John Stinner (R-Scotts Bluff Cty.) shot back, “You’re not addressing the overcrowding problem.”
“We dramatically have to change something about our prison system,” agreed the Legislative Executive Committee’s vice-chair, Sen. Tony Vargas (D-Omaha), who worried whether “[w]e’re just going to keep building prisons every three to five years.”
Meanwhile Fremont Mayor Joey Spellerberg told Frakes “under no circumstances does this new prison need to be in Fremont, Dodge County and the surrounding area.” City Councilman Glen Ellis agreed it was “just going to add more baggage to the work that we have to get done here in order to make this place an attractive place.”
Sources: Fremont Tribune, News Channel Nebraska
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