Nebraska is facing a prison overcrowding crisis that has been more than a decade in the making. At the same time, scores of violent offenders were released early through administrative failures.
Four people were murdered by a prisoner released on good time, when he should and could have lost all good time under current statutes for attacking prison guards and other prisoners. These failures relieved prison overcrowding, but at the expense of human lives and public safety.
Other steps need to be taken to both relieve overcrowding and provide long term solutions.
When I take office in January, the buck will stop at my desk to ensure that sentencing statutes are fully and faithfully implemented. The failures of recent years would not have happened under my watch and will not happen again under my watch.
Upon taking office, I will propose and finalize regulations to take every day of automatically granted good time away from prisoners who repeatedly break prison rules, attack guards, or assault other prisoners. Although the governor currently has that statutory authority, it has not been used. I will use it.
The option of building or leasing new prison space must be on the table, but I will take every responsible step to avoid that expensive option while protecting Nebraskans from dangerous criminals. I will also take all necessary actions to avoid spending money on additional prison space.
I will ask the Legislature to expand drug courts, veteran courts, young adult courts and mental health courts for nonviolent offenders. Such courts cost a small fraction of prison and have proven far more effective at correcting criminal behavior. While almost half of drug offenders who serve time reoffend after leaving prison, only one in seven graduates of drug court reoffend.
I will search the nation for best practices that have proven successful in reducing both crime and the prison population. I will move parole eligible, nonviolent offenders out of prisons and into drug, veteran, young adult and mental health courts, if they would have been eligible when sentenced.
I will expand job training and mental health treatment for inmates and provide supervision and job assistance to every inmate upon his or her release to reduce the rate of recidivism and future demands on the prison system.
I will also invest in long term solutions, like early childhood education, and will work with schools and community colleges to make job training available beginning the junior year of high school.
Successful students are far less likely to fall prey to gangs and crime. These actions will reduce future prison and public assistance costs.
Chuck Hassebrook is a candidate for Nebraska Governor.