Two Bills Aim to Reform Nebraska's Prison System


A push for prison reform in Nebraska could turn into a battle of the bills.
State lawmakers have sent two major reform bills to the legislature's judiciary committee.
The pressure is on after an Omaha man was accused of killing four after his prison release last year. Two Omaha senators have introduced bills as a response to public outcry.
Governor Dave Heineman has thrown his support behind LB832, introduced by Senator Scott Lautenbaugh.
It focuses on the state's good time law, proposing that inmates earn their reduced sentences with their behavior instead of time.
"They ought to be there longer," Heineman said of violent criminals. "Most Nebraskans are just beginning to learn that when a judge says 20 years in our system it really means 10 years."
"This bill on good time is really a non-starter with me," said Senator Brad Ashford. "That's the way the system should work. It doesn't because of the lack of programming available and the waiting lists that are out there."
Focusing on reentry, Senator Ashford has introduced his own bill: LB907.
"I think we have to focus on building resources within the Department of Corrections and probation to make sure that people who are in prison, offenders are given the opportunity to better themselves," he said.
Ashford has gained his own support, but not that of the governor.
"They know they're out of touch with Nebraskans on this issue," said Governor Heineman. He has urged lawmakers to support Lautenbaugh's bill, saying it's the best way to keep dangerous criminals behind bars.
"How many more people do they have to kill before we're going to get tough on these guys?" said Heineman.
But, Ashford insists his bill is not soft on crime. Its main focus could even bring both sides to the table.
"In order to keep the public safe, you have to have supervised release so people don't simply walk out of the prison without any sort of supervision," said Ashford. "If it's a violent offender, there needs to be ankle bracelets and GPS monitoring."
"We're willing to look at his ideas about limited supervised release when you're done," said Heineman.
As for the cost, the governor said any reform will likely have small initial costs with more funding needed later.
Hearings have not yet been scheduled for either bills.