Nebraska legislators advanced a proposal yesterday that aims to prevent construction of a pricey new prison and stave off lawsuits over the chronically overcrowded prison system, reports the Omaha World-Herald. Backers said the $14.5 million measure should divert at least 473 inmates to less-costly probation in the first year, thus easing the crush of prison inmates. Nebraska prisons now hold 1,700 more prisoners than their design capacity, which some lawmakers said leaves the state ripe for a civil rights lawsuit that could force the release of inmates or the construction of a new prison. The proposed measure, proponents said, would prevent a lawsuit by increasing alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders and preparing more inmates behind bars for faster and more successful re-entry into society.
Sen. Brad Ashford, the chief sponsor of the package, said several states have successfully reduced spending on corrections, reduced repeat crimes and protected public safety by being smart on crime. Strategies include requiring drug and other nonviolent offenders to wear electronic monitoring bracelets, stay clean, get jobs and undergo treatment instead of going to prison. “This is not a radical proposition,” Ashford said. “We do not want to build a new prison. We are going to reinvest our money to make people better citizens.” The package, said Sen. Heath Mello, serves as “a strong foundation” on which to build further prison reforms that are being studied by the Council of State Governments, which has helped 17 other states craft so-called “judicial reinvestment” efforts.