The director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services is holding on to the belief that prisons will meet a mandated deadline of July 1, 2020, to reduce crowding.
Scott Frakes said at the Legislature's Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday that he still believes the prisons will be at or below 140 percent of capacity by that date. The prisons are at about 156 percent of capacity now, and to get to 140 percent, the average daily population would need to decrease by about 530 inmates.
Wednesday, Frakes opposed a bill (LB675) introduced by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist that would declare an overcrowding emergency if the prison population doesn't decrease to 140 percent in the next six months.
A number of Nebraska's prisons continue to be full and overflowing, according to the capacities they were built to hold, and the state is facing an ACLU lawsuit to address crowding and conditions for inmates.
State senators who feel the tug of oversight of prisons continue to be frustrated at the slow progress of decreasing the number of inmates.
"Here we sit with a big-block Chevy in neutral, doing absolutely nothing to think outside the parameters of the box that we're in," Krist said.
When July 1, 2020, arrives, and the emergency is put into place, that's not the time to start bailing water, he said.
Krist told the committee he isn't suggesting prisons open the floodgates and put dangerous criminals on the streets. He's suggesting looking at options such as paroling inmates who are not a threat to public safety, or compassionate release for inmates with terminal illness, dementia or debilitating conditions.
"I think the fire needs to be lit," he said.
The department seems to be addressing the crowding problem by adding prison beds, such as the 100 added at Community Corrections Center-Lincoln and another 100 proposed for the state Penitentiary.
"When do we stop building to capacity?" he said.
Frakes said releasing people on parole because of capacity does not serve public safety. Sixty percent of inmates who are parole-eligible are serving sentences for violent crimes. And nearly half have served previous sentences.
There are people who need programming and who are past their parole-eligibility date, he said. Eighty-five have been in treatment and failed, 68 have refused to participate and 119 are on a waiting list. He said the department is providing greater access to treatment.
Rosalyn Cotton, Board of Parole chairwoman, said parole is the ideal way for a person to transition back into the community. However, there are inmates who are parole-eligible but not ready for it.
"Paroling these individuals would not only pose a serious public safety risk but could also harm the individual's rehabilitation," she said.
The Parole Board decides who gets parole based on data risk-assessment scores, offense severity, completion of recommended programming and misconduct reports.
Krist also had hearings Wednesday on:
* A bill (LB672) that would give the Department of Corrections authority to provide medical release of offenders who are terminally ill or permanently incapacitated;
* A bill (LB676) that would allow inmates to be released temporarily to attend a funeral of a relative, contact a potential employer, obtain substance-abuse evaluations or treatment, attend rehabilitative programming or treatment, or participate in a structured program.
On the medical release bill, Inspector General for Corrections Doug Koebernick said he remembered from his visits to prisons over the past few years one young man with a significant medical condition that would eventually lead to death. The inmate talked about how for the next one to two years he would only be able to stare at white, cinder-block walls and a white ceiling.
"He was not going to be able to really look outside, not really spend much time with family because of his condition. And that was quite impactful," Koebernick said.
Care for the inmates with the top 10 most-expensive hospital stays was $2.4 million during the last fiscal year, he said.
About 280 men in prison now are 60 or older.
Inmates with medical release would be able to apply for Medicaid or Medicare to pay for treatment, or use family insurance or private pay options, and choose an appropriate place for care.
Cotton said only the Parole Board had authority by law to release inmates before the end of their sentences.
Krist said he had the names of at least five inmates with Alzheimer's disease or a terminal physical illness that were sitting in prison and not being considered for release.
Cotton asked him to send her the names so she could work with the department on those cases.
"I'm really happy to do that," Krist said.
The first surgeries are a ways off, but Bryan Health's new surgical hospital and medical office building is substantially complete and ready to be shown off to the community.
The four-story, 100,000-square-foot building cost $25 million. That doesn't include money the hospital system has spent over the past two decades acquiring nearly three dozen houses on two square blocks between A and Everett and 50th and 52nd streets, an area east of Bryan East Campus.
The surgical hospital takes up the first floor of the building, spanning 17,000 square feet.
It is officially called the Doctors Outpatient Surgery Center to reflect the fact that it is a joint venture between Bryan Health and 76 area doctor investors.
It has six surgical suites, with room for potential future expansion, and will host outpatient surgeries in eight different medical specialties, including gynecology, orthopedics, plastic surgery and even dental surgery.
The three other floors of the building are reserved for medical offices.
Bryan first announced plans for the building at 5055 A St. in December 2015, and started construction in the summer of 2016.
Construction is largely complete and the building has been going through various certification processes with local, state and national agencies.
The next step, said John Woodrich, president and CEO of Bryan Medical Center, is eight "test" procedures, which will be done in the surgical hospital in the next couple of weeks.
Those are needed to satisfy accreditation requirements of the Joint Commission, an independent, nonprofit organization that accredits and certifies health care programs.
Woodrich said that process could take up to two months.
The hope is that the surgical facility will be open to patients by the end of March or early April.
Surgeries might range from knee replacements to gall bladder removals.
"If you can come in and go home in the same day, we can take care of you," said Crystal Livingston, administrator of the surgery center.
The trend of outpatient surgeries is growing nationally, both because of medical advances that make more of such surgeries possible and because of their lower cost.
Bryan has seen a steady increase in outpatient surgeries over the past three years, with the combined number of procedures at its Bryan East Campus and Bryan West Campus growing from just less than 6,800 in 2015 to just more than 7,300 last year.
It's expected that the new surgical center will do 5,000 procedures in the approximately nine months it's open this year.
Once the center is up and running, many current surgical rooms at the two Bryan campuses will be renovated and expanded to keep up with changing medical technologies. That will give the hospitals more room for inpatient surgeries.
Woodrich said 12,000 square feet of the second floor is leased, with the tenant expected to move in in May or June, and 15,000 square feet of the third floor is leased, with the tenant expected to move in by August or September. He declined to name either tenant.
The fourth floor is currently vacant, Woodrich said.
The building has separate entrances for surgical hospital patients and visitors to the medical offices. It also will have a skywalk connection to Bryan Medical Plaza.
Bryan plans to show off the building to employees, doctors and other staff Thursday, with a public ribbon-cutting planned later in the afternoon.
A Lincoln man remains missing more than six months after family members told investigators they were concerned something might be wrong.
Police have released little information on the case, but a woman they interviewed in October about 35-year-old Phillip Madlock's disappearance told them Madlock had worried "some people might be trying to kill him."
The case was not immediately publicized by police or by Madlock's family, as sometimes happens in missing persons cases involving suspicious circumstances.
Still, court documents show police haven't abandoned their efforts to find Madlock or figure out what happened to him.
Madlock's brother first reported him missing July 10, saying he hadn't heard from him in two weeks.
At the time, a sister called his disappearance out of character and said she feared something might be wrong, police said in a Nov. 22 affidavit requesting a search warrant for Madlock's phone records.
In October, police tracked down a former girlfriend, who said Madlock hadn't spoken with her since she kicked him out of her home July 18.
It was unusual for him to sever ties with everyone, the woman said.
Before their falling out, she said, Madlock had told her about several disturbing incidents that started while he was on a trip to the Dominican Republic over the summer.
There, Madlock said he met a woman and quickly became adamant that he needed to send her money to buy a home, the former girlfriend told police.
He also talked of borrowing $2,000 from "some Crips in California" who he was unable to pay back, she said.
The strange behavior apparently continued when he returned to the U.S. on June 19.
Madlock asked his former girlfriend "if he could stay with her and 'lay low' because some people might be trying to kill him," she told investigators, according to the November search warrant affidavit.
He started receiving pictures on his cellphone from unknown people, showing his former residence, the former girlfriend told police. And he frequently checked windows to see if anyone was watching him.
In late June, a different, unknown woman from Omaha threatened retaliation by her family after Madlock denied being the father of her child, the former girlfriend told police.
Investigators made the request for phone records after learning Madlock's cellphone had been registered for two years under a pseudonym — "Pablo Escobar" — which his family had never heard him use, the affidavit said.
Police had already traced Madlock's phone to the Des Moines, Iowa, area between July 25 and Aug. 15, the affidavit said.
Wednesday, Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister said the investigation is ongoing and declined to provide further details so as not to jeopardize police efforts.
Madlock is 5-foot-10 and weighs 195 pounds. He has black hair and brown eyes.
Police ask that anyone with information on Madlock or his whereabouts call 402-441-6000.