Next year, a prison overcrowding emergency will be declared. But, before it can be solved, the overcrowding must be measured accurately.
The director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services told the Legislature in March that prison overcrowding is at 163%, less than 1% under the most overcrowded system in the U.S., which is in Alabama.
Unfortunately, this number is misleading for three reasons:
* It is the average for all Nebraska prisons — for men, women and youth. The women's and youth facilities are less full than the men's, so this masks the true scope of the overcrowding in the men's system. You can't alleviate overcrowding in a men's prison by moving men to a women's prison. They should be calculated separately.
2. Corrections sends more than 100 men out to county jails every month, and they just disappear off the total count. In spite of this actuarial trick, they are still state inmates. These men may have to do programming that is only available in an NDCS facility and must parole from an NDCS facility. They should be counted.
3. NDCS is expanding facilities, such as a new 100-man dorm at Community Corrections Center-Lincoln. But this expansion added beds without the necessary expansions of support facilities — such as food service and prep, medical, programming or rec space.
That kind of "in-filling" just increases the overcrowding, but NDCS counts it as expanding their design capacity. NDCS should accurately state their design capacity.
If you consider all of the factors, the true overcrowding in the men's system would be 175%, making us the most overcrowded in the U.S. The first step toward solving the problem is honestly measuring it.
Robert J. Heist II, Lincoln