Low Risk, High Cost: Lawmakers Focus Efforts on Juveniles
Across the nation, there are nearly 125,000 prisoners over age 55 behind bars, and by 2030, experts say that number will grow to at least 400,000.
Some Nebraska lawmakers say focusing on keeping juvenile offenders out of trouble is the first step to relieving overcrowding and keeping the elderly population from rising even higher.
Senator Brad Ashford, who heads the state's judiciary committee, says part of the solution lies in rehabilitating troubled juveniles before they end up as troubled adults.
"If they are incarcerated and their issues are not dealt with -- which has sort of been what's been happening in Nebraska for a number of years -- they come back into the community and they re–offend, and they are brought into the adult system," he said. "That increases the population as well."
The American Civil Liberties Union says lawmakers are only adding to the problem instead of fixing it.
"At the same time Nebraska has had incredibly overcrowded prisons for over a decade now, our lawmakers continue to introduce bills to increase the number of laws that could result in jail time," ACLU Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller said.
"The ACLU has been opposing bills that would make graffiti a felony, that would make spitting at a police officer a felony."
But Senator Ashford says lawmakers are constantly working to find strategies to keep people out of the prison system, and to decrease the elderly population behind bars -- starting with revamping the juvenile justice system.
"The more juveniles we get on the right road, the fewer of them will be committing more serious crimes as adults. That's a big factor," he said.
"We believe and hope that the juvenile justice reform -- which, we're going to take an entirely new direction with juvenile justice now -- will help monitor these young people, these kids, so that they won't commit more serious offenses."
Senator Ashford also says that while other states have successful programs that help offenders get back into the community after being released from prison, Nebraska really has nothing like that.
That's something, however, he says lawmakers are trying to accomplish.
"We're trying to add to our existing day reporting centers, our GPS monitoring systems, so that individuals can be sentenced to probation and not be incarcerated, and still be safe -- safe to themselves and the public is safe," he said.
"And that means monitoring, and that means reporting, and that means personnel. And we're clearly working on that."