Nebraska prisons are bulging at a level state lawmakers warned against three years ago, reports the Lincoln Journal Star. Reaching that mark isn't prodding Gov. Dave Heineman to take immediate action. Prison cells are holding about 4,480 inmates, 40 percent more than they were designed to – a threshold lawmakers said could make the state legally vulnerable to charges prisoners face “cruel and unusual punishment.”
A 2003 state law says that when the 40 percent mark is reached, the governor may declare an emergency and order prisoners be released on parole to reduce capacity. Heineman has declined to do that, saying that “the correctional institutions continue to operate safely.” State Sen. Kermit Brashear of Omaha led the charge to encourage the state to keep the population from reaching 140 percent. He leads a council that has been devising ways to keep more nonviolent offenders, mainly drug users, out of prisons and put them in community-based rehabilitation programs and on probation instead. The group has also helped craft sentencing guidelines for felony drug offenders. Brashear predicted the long-awaited guidelines could be used voluntarily by judges within two or three months to reduce prison sentences.