Nebraska’s prison policies, ranging from mental health care for inmates and good time sentence reductions, have been under fire for months. They are critical issues in this session of the legislature and for Michael Kenney, the new man in charge of the Department of Corrections.
Lawmakers will discuss changes in how the department conducts its business but change is already in progress under Kenney’s leadership. He’s been at the helm since September.
Kenney says public safety is still a priority. He supports the discussion of changing the good time law, especially for violent offenders.
He told us, “It will take the inmates that come into our system with violent crimes and it will cause them to have to earn their good time by good behavior in the prison as opposed to having it given to them in a lump sum the day they walk in."
Kenney says there are many inmates behind the walls and wire that need help with mental issues. He says the system does a good job but he would like to see it do more.
“We do as much as we can,” he said. “I would always favor enhanced mental health services if they became available. We really do know that we have a large percentage of our population that suffers from mental health issues and we're trying very aggressively to address those."
Doing more to help the mentally ill and keeping violent criminals locked up longer could mean the need for more prison space. That's being studied right now.
Kenney said, “Currently we're involved with some consultants with some master planning projects which are going to inform us about what resources might or might not be needed in the future and what options we have. But we're in the middle of that process right now.”
Kenney hopes to know the results of that study by late spring or early summer. Then, he says, he'll know exactly how much change is coming to his department.
He said his office will also work to make sure the right inmates get paroled. He hopes checks of inmate behavior can help make sure that parolees are stable and a good risk.