The Council of State Governments, a national leader in reforming prison systems, has agreed to send a team to Nebraska next month to work on the prison system, reports the Lincoln Journal Star. “It’s a big deal,” said Sen. Brad Ashford, who chairs the legislature’s Judiciary Committee and is spearheading the reform effort. “What’s a little bit unusual about this is that they are coming in literally at the drop of a hat. … They realize time is short” before the legislative session starts in January.
The council has led a national movement called “justice reinvestment” aimed at reducing the prison population through such means as enhanced probation options and mental health and re-entry programs for inmates returning to their communities. Nebraska's nine prisons have room for 3,175 inmates and hold about 4,730, 149 percent of capacity. That’s projected to hit 188 percent by 2020 unless changes are made in how Nebraska treats offenders. Reaching 140 percent of capacity triggers a report to the governor, who can declare an emergency, although Gov. Dave Heineman has not done so. That level also can be a benchmark federal judges use to order construction of new cells. A new prison would cost at least $120 million and likely would be at or near capacity the day it opened.