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Nebraska prison lifers ask for possibility to earn parole

Nebraska prison lifers ask for possibility to earn parole


In July, a Nebraska State Penitentiary lifer sent a letter to the Legislature's Judiciary Committee and others in state government with a proposal. 

What about a bill, wrote Nebraska prisoner Crescent Willie Tucker, that would offer the option of parole with lifetime community supervision for those with more than 25 years served? 

There are 114 men and women serving life sentences who have spent 20 to 50 years in prison, these "forgotten lifers" say, and the only thing they have to look forward to is someday dying in prison. 

Over the past 30 years, Tucker said, the Nebraska Board of Pardons has shut the door on those sentenced to life. In the 1980s, life sentences were being commuted and those men and women given opportunities to be accountable for their actions and for rehabilitation, he said. They worked for different government agencies and were allowed to attend community colleges to further their education, Tucker said.

Those that experienced that opportunity, he said, were always on their best behavior because they didn't want to lose the freedom they were granted. 

A report by The Sentencing Project on America's increasing use of life or long-term sentences showed that as of 2016, 161,957 people in this country were serving life sentences, 1 of every 9 prisoners. An additional 44,311 individuals were serving “virtual life” sentences, for a total of 206,268, or 1 of every 7 people in prison.

That number has quadrupled since 1984. 

In Nebraska, under current policies, eligibility for parole is based on the minimum sentence that is a number of years, such as 15 years to life. A straight life sentence, or life to life, has no minimum number of years.

"The only thing we do," said Rosalyn Cotton, Parole Board chairwoman, "is we deal with releasing individuals from the institutions if they are within their parole eligibility dates. Anything other than that would have to come from the Board of Pardons."

The Board of Pardons is made up of the governor, secretary of state and state attorney general. 

The inmates' Fair Act Treatment proposal, offered by the 114 lifers who have served 20 years and longer in Nebraska, would provide a future for men and women who have earned an opportunity to progress across levels of supervision with an opportunity for community custody, they said. And electronic monitoring would provide for the safety of the public. 

Expanding electronic monitoring would open space in the prisons, and allow more people to benefit from transition and reentry, the proposal said. 

Tucker and his half-brother, Dwayne Tucker, 17 at the time, robbed a restaurant in December 1981. Willie Tucker, who was 21 at the time, fatally shot the cashier, Lisa Lisko, 18.

Dwayne Tucker, sentenced to life as a minor, was given a new sentence of 50 to 70 years because of a new law prohibiting mandatory life sentences for crimes committed by juveniles. With credit for nearly 33 years and eight months served, under the state's "good time" law, he was released in June 2016.

Willie Tucker has served 37 years on a life-to-life sentence. 

Nebraska Inspector General for Corrections Doug Koebernick included the proposal from Tucker and the others serving life sentences in his annual report, saying innovative ideas from inmates arrive all the time in the mail and are also shared with him when visiting prisons.

He cited Tucker, saying he sent a thought-provoking letter and proposal.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


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