LINCOLN — A group that helped craft prison reforms in Texas that saved millions of dollars says Nebraska should follow the lead of the Lone Star state.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation, in a 22-page report financed by the Omaha-based Platte Institute, said Nebraska is wasting money by imprisoning too many nonviolent criminals and should refocus funds on rehabilitating higher-risk offenders.
The foundation recommended that the state adjust its sentencing laws to place nonviolent offenders into probation or other less costly alternatives to imprisonment, such as drug courts. It also suggested that inmates earn good time by completing education courses and vocational training and providing restitution.
The report faulted Nebraska for releasing 49 percent of its prisoners with no supervision.
That's a particular problem, the report said, with mentally ill inmates, who leave prison with a two-week supply of medications but no means of assuring they are taking them or seeking continued treatment. About one in three Nebraska prison inmates has a mental health diagnosis.
State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, who has introduced two prison reform bills this year, said he was encouraged the report supported his ideas, which include a period of “supervised release” for violent offenders and a stronger focus on evidence-based alternatives to prison.
But Ashford said Nebraska lacks the vocational programs in prison to allow inmates to learn valuable trades that would lead to jobs after their release.
The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing Thursday on Ashford's prison reform measures.
The push for reform was sparked by chronic overcrowding of state prisons, which hold about 53 percent more inmates than their design capacity.
State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha has called for a special investigation into the state's handling of former state prison inmate Nikko Jenkins.
Jenkins, a mentally troubled inmate released without supervision, is charged with four slayings that occurred in the Omaha area within days after his release in July.