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Nebraska prisons face overcrowding emergency

(WOWT)
Published: Jun. 22, 2020 at 7:06 PM CDT
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In nine days an overcrowding emergency will be declared for Nebraska prisons.

Gov. Pete Ricketts will have no choice -- it’s the law.

The governor will have no choice.

It's the law.

The latest figures available show Nebraska Corrections was at 152 percent of design capacity, with 5,400 inmates being held in 10 facilities.

According to the law, capacity needs to be at 140 percent by July 1 or an overcrowding emergency will be declared.

Experts said 500 inmates would need to be released to reach that number -- and that’s not going to happen; Ricketts has made that clear.

Ricketts said the overcrowding emergency simply means the parole board will speed up its review process.

A 6 News investigation has found the parole board can only do so much with the information in front of them.

Last December, Timothy Lopez and Gilberto Mejia were granted work release from the Community Correctional Center in Lincoln.

Over the lunch hour both were tasked to find work as they earned their way back into society. Instead of finding a job, both men were arrested by Lincoln police for soliciting a prostitute.

6 News obtained audio from a parole board hearing for Lopez and Mejia.

Boardmember Rosalyn Cotton: “Raise your right hand. Do you promise to tell the truth during the proceedings?”

It is late January as Lopez attended his parole board meeting.

Cotton: “Okay, Mr. Lopez. It looks like you’re sentenced out of Douglas County for sexual assault - first degree.”

Lopez has been in jail since 2009 for sexual assault as he received a 20-year sentence but will likely serve 10.

Lopez: “I take full responsibility for my actions.”

Lopez explained to the court how he learned from his mistake and that the case had been dismissed.

Boardmember Mark Langan: “You’ve been ticketed for soliciting prostitution?”

Lopez: “Yes, sir.”

Langan: “And that is pending?”

Lopez: “No, we got a letter back-”

The case is still pending. The letter Lopez produced from Lincoln Police said he would not be ticketed for first-degree sexual assault but for soliciting prostitution.

Lopez was granted parole.

Cotton: “Please, don’t let yourself down. You have people who can support you in the community. Utilize their services and utilize their help, ok?”

Lopez: “Yes, ma’am.”

Near the end of May, Mejia met with the parole board.

Mejia was the other man who was with Lopez on work release and cited for soliciting prostitution. He has been in jail since 2012 for sexually assaulting a minor.

Cotton: “You’re sentenced out of Colfax County for assault.”

Mejia’s sentence was for eight years and he probably would be out already if not for assaulting a corrections officer a few years ago.

Much of Mejia’s hearing centered on his recent arrest where the case is still pending.

Langan: “I have a real problem with that situation. I wouldn’t be comfortable putting you out there. So that’s my position.”

The board rejected his parole and sent him back to prison. Mejia’s next parole hearing isn’t until February.

On Thursday, the Nebraska Department of Corrections and parole board are planning to discuss what happens after the overcrowding emergency is declared.