State Patrol To Investigate Department Of Correctional Services

By: WOWT 6 News Email
By: WOWT 6 News Email

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services issued this news release on Wednesday:

Director Mike Kenney announced today he has taken steps to respond to the investigation completed by Jackson-Lewis. His statement is below.

“In light of the magnitude of the sentence miscalculations discovered in June, I initiated a full investigation of the Department of Correctional Services utilizing an objective independent law firm. I appreciate the professional and thorough manner in which Jackson-Lewis law firm conducted and completed this work. I have now received the independent investigative report. I have reviewed the report in its entirety and am taking steps in response to the findings. There is a very specific process that must be followed with regard to disciplinary action for employees covered by State Personnel Rules and Regulations.

Today, I have commenced disciplinary actions against several department employees. While I cannot share names with the public at this time, I can say that I have initiated the suspension of certain employees pending completion of the disciplinary process. Under the state’s personnel procedures, it will take approximately five working days to complete the due process required by the regulations. In addition to these suspended employees, disciplinary actions are being contemplated for other employees who played a role in the sentencing miscalculations. The scope and severity of violations by those employees is being evaluated at this time based upon the findings of the investigation. I am committed to full accountability on the part of any agency employee whose negligence or failure to act contributed to this massive problem.

This has been an extremely trying time for our agency and its employees. The public should be able to trust that when a judge imposes a sentence, it will be carried out with competence and expertise. I take full responsibility for correcting this problem. I am determined to take whatever steps necessary to rebuild confidence in our abilities to act with diligence, accuracy and professionalism. Our first commitment is to the public safety of Nebraska citizens and that safety became compromised. I will continue to work closely with Governor Heineman, Attorney General Bruning, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, the Council of State Governments and others to improve our agency.

I have already taken four specific management actions apart from personnel matters based upon what I learned about the agency’s procedures. First, I have immediately directed that any court order or litigation contact from the Attorney General’s Office will be brought to the personal attention of the agency director. This was not the past practice of the agency. Second, I have discovered that the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services does not receive a copy of the judge’s sentencing order with the delivery of an inmate. Instead, the agency has relied on the “commitment order” that has usually been provided by the court personnel and accompanies the inmate upon our department’s initial intake. The agency had relied on the commitment orders to calculate the sentences. When reviewing inmate records in order to recalculate sentences correctly, it became clear that a commitment order does not always contain all of the same or complete sentencing information. Therefore, I have already directed the agency’s Records Department to obtain the judge’s sentencing order for each current inmate and for all new inmate admissions and to review those sentencing orders to ensure our records match the judge’s sentencing order and are correct. It is clear to me that had these procedures been in place, the risk of sentence miscalculations or failure to follow a court’s order would have been mitigated or eliminated. Third, I have directed an internal systems review of the Records Department’s operations. Finally, I have requested that an independent review team from the National Institute of Corrections study the records operation to ensure our practices are uniform and consistent.

I want to publicly acknowledge and thank Attorney General Bruning and the many attorneys and staff in his office who have worked long hours to assist my agency in this ordeal. I fully intend to make more specific information and action updates available to the public as they become available.”

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning announced Thursday they are ordering the Nebraska State Patrol to conduct a criminal investigation into the Department of Correctional Services' sentencing miscalculations.

The results of the investigation will be turned over to Bruning and Lancaster County Attorney Joe Kelly to determine if criminal charges are warranted.

Bruning doesn't believe any crimes were committed, but the investigation is intended to make sure. "The public has a right to know every detail. Accountability and transparency are critical to restoring the public trust. Access to the details uncovered through this process and investigation will be available to the public at the earliest possible date."

The announcement comes in response to revelations that Department of Correctional Services employees miscalculated the sentences for hundreds of inmates released before they should have been. The sentences were cut short even after they were advised of two Nebraska Supreme Court rulings that spelled out the proper way to determine a prison term.

In addition to directing the State Patrol to begin a criminal investigation, Gov. Heineman sent an email Thursday to all Corrections Department employees emphasizing that no one is above the law and when the Nebraska Supreme Court issues a ruling, the expectation is that every state employee and every state agency comply with the law. “Public safety is priority number one. The citizens have lost their trust and confidence in the department and there’s a lot of work to be done to rebuild that."

Wednesday night, Corrections Department Director Mike Kenney announced he has taken steps to respond to the investigation revealing dozens of inmates' prison sentences were miscalculated, resulting in their early release.

Kenney has begun the process of suspending several employees.

"While I cannot share names with the public at this time, I can say that I have initiated the suspension of certain employees pending completion of the disciplinary process," reads a department statement.

"In addition to these suspended employees, disciplinary actions are being contemplated for other employees who played a role in the sentencing miscalculations. The scope and severity of violations by those employees is being evaluated at this time based upon the findings of the investigation."

Kenney went on to say that this has been an extremely trying time for the department and that he understands it may have hurt public trust. "Our first commitment is to the public safety of Nebraska citizens and that safety became compromised."

He plans to work closely with state leaders to improve the agency and points to four specific actions:

1- Directing any court order or litigation from the Attorney General's office will be brought to the director's personal attention.
2- Directing the agency’s Records Department to obtain the judge’s sentencing order for each current inmate and for all new inmate admissions. The department previously depended on commitment orders, which sometimes varied from sentencing.
3- Ordering an internal systems review of the Records Department’s operations.
4- Requesting an independent review team from the National Institute of Corrections to study the records operation.


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