Editorial, 11/6: Prison reformers making progress

2013-11-05T23:59:00Z 2015-01-28T16:31:42Z Editorial, 11/6: Prison reformers making progressBy the Journal Star editorial board JournalStar.com
November 05, 2013 11:59 pm  • 

Agreement by the Council of State Governments to come to Nebraska raises hopes that the Legislature could make significant progress on prison reform.

The state's prison system already is at about 150 percent of capacity and is projected to reach 188 percent by 2020.

One way to cope with the rising population is to build more prisons, which is an expensive proposition. The 960-bed prison at Tecumseh, which opened in 2001, cost $74 million.

Just as important, however, are the costs of staffing a prison. It costs about $29,000 per year to house an inmate. Spending on corrections in Nebraska went from $38 million in 1988 to $156 million in 2011. Correction officials recently requested an additional $12.6 million over two years to handle the overflow.

The Justice Center of the Council on State Governments thinks there is a better way.

Under its “justice reinvestment” approach, officials collect and use data about offenders to better assess the risk of an offender committing a new crime.

More money is allocated into drug treatment and mental health services. Parole and probation services are beefed up.

And rather than sending inmates back to prison for parole violations, some state have instituted other sanctions, such as a few days in jail or community service, for minor and technical transgressions.

The Council on State Governments said in a recent report that Texas has saved $1.5 billion in construction costs and $340 million in annual operating costs by adopting “justice reinvestment” policies.

Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha and other leaders in the prison reform effort in Nebraska will meet with representatives from the council Nov. 13-15. In the first phase of implementing the new concepts, officials analyze state-specific data on crime and re-offending, and they use the data to develop policies that shift spending on corrections to other programs that improve public safety. In the next phase those policies are put into practice, monitored and adjusted as needed.

Studies have linked the growth in prison populations to longer sentences and higher rates of incarceration for nonviolent crimes. A study by the Pew Center showed that the average time served in Nebraska prisons for drug offenses rose by 8 percent from 1990 to 2009.

State officials say a new prison in Nebraska would cost at least $120 million and probably would be at capacity the day it opened.

The success of the “justice reinvestment” approach in other states suggests that by adopting different policies, Nebraska could do a better job of identifying the criminals who need to be kept behind bars and those who might be able to make it on the outside if they have some support. Nebraska's prison reformers are on the right path.

Copyright 2015 JournalStar.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

TODAY'S LETTERS

Letter, 8/30: More ridiculous laws

One would have thought that America had moved beyond the need for loyalty oaths now that the fear of the Soviet Union and the spread of Communism no longer exists. Some patriotic Americans actually find these pledges intrusive and fascist in nature.

Letter, 8/30: Trump sinking GOP

Donald Trump's rise to the polling top has stumped a number of pundits across America. However, I think I know how he did it. Listening to his rhetoric, which is reminiscent of listening to a petulant child, he appeals to a portion of voters who are disenfranchised with the establishment of …

Letter, 8/30: Hold on to Highlands

As an Australian, I have been a regular visitor to Lincoln for the past 35 years as my spouse hails from Nebraska. As an avid golfer, I have played on many of your golf courses and thoroughly enjoyed them all.

Letter, 8/30: Keep skies safe

Rogue operators of unmanned aircraft, such as those spotted near commercial airliners, must face the consequences of their actions ("Recreational drones bear closer watching," Aug. 17). Although the FAA has the authority to assess civil penalties for violating existing regulations that prohi…

Letter, 8/30: Regulate wind farms

Kudos to the Lincoln Journal Star for addressing wind farms and county planning ("War over wind energy far from over," Aug. 20). Every county in Nebraska should be developing regulations on how to deal with wind turbine farms now before it is too late. Our state needs to address the long-ran…

Letter, 8/30: Give taxes back

So, Lancaster County collected $500,000 extra in property tax revenue and couldn't decide how to spend it ("County Board votes down tax cut, approves budget," Aug. 25). In the quarter-century plus that I owned a small business, whenever someone mistakenly overpaid me, I did the right thing a…