Hastings Regional Center May Play Role in Prison Reform


A decade after mental health reform shifted services away from the Hastings Regional Center, prison reform could again transform the campus.

Senator Les Seiler believes it's just the place for programs to help offenders deal with their problems.

"What we would house there are inmates who have not real severe mental problems, but need mental counseling and drug and abuse counseling," Seiler said.

A 2008 study by the University of Nebraska shows 88 percent of Nebraska inmates have a diagnosed drug problem, and 31 percent have a diagnosed mental illness.

Senator Brad Ashford of Omaha, the architect of prison reform, says warehousing prisoners doesn't work.

Last month he told NTV, "We have to focus on building resources within the Department of Corrections, probation, to make sure people who are in prison, offenders, are given an opportunity to improve themselves."

Without help, 70 percent will re-offend in the group Seiler is targeting. And we all pay for it.

He said, "It's $38,000 per prisoner per year. You can almost send them to college for that."

He envisions a partnership with Mary Lanning Healthcare to provide the experts, and break the cycle of addiction and incarceration.

Seiler said, "They get out, they get a handful of pills and a few dollars and no place to go and given no training for career or any type of mental health training and they get put back on the street and they go back to the same habits they had before, back they come."

It all sounds good, but it's got to come with a price tag, right? Seiler said they've got that figured out. Some of the buildings were scheduled to be torn down. Instead, the money would be put into this.

"So they don't become prisoners in the future," he said.

Hastings Mayor Vern Powers and the City Council are on board, and Seiler has designated LB 999 as his priority bill.

LB 999 has been included with another prison reform effort, LB 907, which would change how Nebraska supervises inmates after they're released.

There is support for LB 907, however, Hall County Attorney Mark Young had concerns about inmates having contact with their victims, and questioned if county's would be left picking up the tab.