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The Judiciary Committee on Tuesday sent a package of bills to the full Legislature that are aimed at providing relief from prison crowding and improve programming and reentry into communities for inmates. 

The main bill (LB841), introduced by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, would require the Department of Correctional Services to work with the Parole Board on policies and procedures to manage an overcrowding emergency, if one is declared or determined to exist.

Senators said when the bills were introduced that the justice system oversight committee report showed progress had been made in the state's prisons, but  more work needed to be done on significant overcrowding and understaffing. 

The prisons are at about 156 percent of design capacity, and to get to 140 percent, the average daily population would need to decrease by about 530 inmates by July 2020. Department of Corrections Director Scott Frakes has said he believes the department can do that.

The package of bills includes eight others that would be amended into LB841.

Judiciary Chairwoman Laura Ebke said the bill reflects many recommendations for reforms by the Legislature's multiple prison oversight committees. It acknowledges the reality of where the state is at with its corrections system while ensuring the safety of the public. And it would give the department and parole board flexibility in implementing the changes, she said. 

"Prison reforms that adequately protect public safety while addressing the safety of those who work in our prisons are paramount to the positive future of our criminal justice system and our state," Ebke said. 

Other bills in the package include: 

* LB366, introduced by Sen. Steve Halloran. It would change the name of the Office of Parole Administration to the Division of Parole Supervision and place it within the Board of Parole;

* LB692, introduced by Sen. Carol Blood. As amended, the bill would ask the department to complete an analysis of all its staffing needs and report to the Legislature by Sept. 15, 2020, and every six years after that. 

* LB816, introduced by Sen. Ernie Chambers. It would transfer the authority to conduct criminal investigations from the department to the Nebraska State Patrol. Department employees that are correctional investigators would work for the patrol and money appropriated for those investigators would transfer to the patrol. 

* LB852, introduced by Sen. Kate Bolz. The bill would allow authority for an inmate to leave a prison under certain circumstances to participate in substance abuse evaluations or treatment, attend rehabilitation programs, seek a place to live or employment, or participate in other structured programs. It would also allow for an inmate with a terminal illness to be granted medical parole. 

* LB853, introduced by Bolz, would allow the department to temporarily continue to house inmates in county jails to ease crowding. 

* LB868, introduced by Pansing Brooks, would require the parole board to provide both the department and the inmate with notice within 10 days that the inmate had been deferred parole, the reasons why, and any programming or treatment needed. 

* LB932, introduced by Sen. Sara Howard, would require the department medical director to establish a protocol to determine whether inmates who will be released should be prescribed medication to help reduce or eliminate his or her use of opiates. 

* LB1118, introduced by Sen. Bob Krist, would create the Coordinated Reentry Council within the Nebraska Crime Commission.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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