Prison Reform Proposals Pending

From good time to furloughs, next month, lawmakers will push for changes in prison rules. One of the architects of the proposed changes says the plans should make us safer.

For more than a year, we've been hearing the drumbeat of prison reform in Nebraska getting louder.

Ryan Roberts, whose sister Andrea Kruger was murdered, said in September, “Obviously something went terribly wrong and it needs to be addressed."

Omaha city council member Ben Gray added, "We've got serious concerns about the furlough process."

A year ago, Jermaine Lucas, a two-time felon and gang member, was on a two-day furlough from a work release program when Omaha police say he reached for a gun despite their orders to stop. Officers shot and killed him.

A year later, the idea of being released early hit center stage as Nikko Jenkins, in spite of prison assaults and claims of mental illness, received his good time credit and was released early. He admits that 12-days later he began a killing spree that took four lives in little more than one week.

Omaha State Senator Brad Ashford says, "We're just not going to let that happen anymore."

Ashford knows there are no guarantees but says if these changes were already in place, Jenkins never would have been released. He'd be getting mental health care instead.

The plan carries a price tag of approximately $25 million. A big part of it would be to hire more probation and parole officers to make sure inmates aren't released into society without any supervision as was the case with Nikko Jenkins.

“Forty percent of our inmates jam out, meaning they're not on parole,” Ashford said. “They served their sentence and they get out without any supervision."

That amounts to 800 inmates every year hitting the streets in Nebraska without any follow-up. Ashford says, “The goal should be keeping the public safe and we do whatever we need to do to reduce the risk of reoffending."

One new idea that will be proposed is a veterans court. Hundreds of vets, whom experts say should be treated for things like PTSD, are incarcerated.

No new prison will be proposed but Senator Ashford expects a plan to add more beds to an existing prison as a short term solution.

The question now is whether enough senators will be on board with the reform.

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