For more than two hours Wednesday, the Nebraska Legislature’s Judiciary Committee discussed making changes in the way state prison inmates are furloughed and how they earn good time in prison. That discussion was dominated by a familiar figure in the Unicameral.
Talk of proposed changes was led by Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle, citing a few tragic incidents in Omaha. He believes violent offenders should serve their entire sentence in prison. “Omaha city leaders have spoken out against violent crime, gun crimes and repeat violent offenders with a unified voice. It is now up to our lawmakers and governor to do their part to keep violent criminals off our streets.”
Sixteen-year-old Montrell Wiseman attracted the mayor’s attention. The teenager was shot and killed on an Omaha street last October. Six people were charged with the crime, including Angelo Tolbert, who had been arrested twice in the past two years for carrying a concealed weapon.
The hearing was dominated by Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who is against the bill. Chambers took time to call out the mayor. “I understand a politician in a hard race for mayor, reelection, we're all grown. I haven’t seen that mayor down here since I've been on the Judiciary Committee, telling us, instructing us how the Department of Corrections should be run. He’s never come down here to point out how the guns get into my community.”
Wiseman’s mother had another opinion. She wants violent criminals to stay locked up. She would like to have her son back, though she knows she can’t, but hopes lawmakers will change the law.
“It needs to be changed,” said Sharie Plunkett. “I'm sorry, if you do the crime you do the time. It definitely needs to be changed. I don’t feel they should be out before their time among other people.”
"It becomes a massive violation of public trust when we arrest someone only to have them re-enter society re-offend," said Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer.
"The recidivism rate in Nebraska is like 25-28%. Nationally it's 60%," said John Krajci of Lincoln. "Furloughs work. If it ain't broke -- don't try to fix it."