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Ernie Chambers intervenes in Nebraska prisoner release mix-up

Ernie Chambers intervenes in Nebraska prisoner release mix-up

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When Peirce Hubbard-Williams of Lincoln got the call last week to report to prison, he showed up at the door of the one man in government he hoped would protect him.

Hubbard-Williams pleaded for the assistance of State Sen. Ernie Chambers, a longtime defender of prisoners’ rights.

The visit to Chambers ultimately led to the state agreeing to alter the way it is dealing with Hubbard-Williams and other former inmates in similar circumstances.

The Lincoln man had been caught up in the state’s plan to correct a two-decade pattern of sentence miscalculations by the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services.

Corrections officials told Hubbard-Williams on Thursday he would need to return to prison to complete the remaining five years on his maximum 20-year sentence for theft as a habitual criminal.

Distraught over the news, Hubbard-Williams sought out Chambers and asked how the state could legally require him to serve more time on a sentence that he thought he had completed three years ago.

Hubbard-Williams, 40, told Chambers he couldn’t go back to prison. He had a job and needed to provide for his family, he said, and he had not violated parole.

He has a night job making manhole covers. During the day he looks after his 1-year-old son and his fiancee’s two young children.

Gov. Dave Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning announced Friday that the state was rounding up former inmates whose sentences had been miscalculated and who still had time remaining to serve.

The move came after a World-Herald investigation revealed two weeks ago that Corrections had been miscalculating the sentences of hundreds of prisoners since 1995. State officials said Friday that the errors had affected 873 inmates, including 306 who had been released already.

Chambers said in an interview that after talking to Hubbard-Williams, he contacted Mike Kenney, director of the Nebraska Department of Corrections, and Esther Casmer, chairwoman of the Nebraska Board of Parole. He told them that based on Hubbard-Williams’ record he would have been eligible for parole by now, so authorities shouldn’t incarcerate him.

Kenney and Casmer agreed, Chambers said, and told him that Hubbard-Williams would not have to report to a state prison facility, as previously ordered.

Heineman confirmed Saturday that Chambers has had conversations with Kenney about how to deal with individuals who would have been eligible for parole if they hadn’t been released early.

“We have really appreciated Sen. Chambers’ input as we look at part of the programs we are trying to put together for certain individuals who might qualify for the re-entry furlough program,” Heineman said, through spokeswoman Sue Roush. “Our discussions are all a part of the larger strategy we are working toward.”

Chambers said officials still hadn’t ironed out the details of how the Hubbard-Williams case would be handled. A decision could come Monday. It is possible Hubbard-Williams could be monitored for a longer period of time either on parole or through the re-entry furlough program.

“I am going to do everything I can to help resolve this and bring as few people back to prison as possible,” Chambers said. “Since the state discharged these people from state custody, it would be unethical, in my opinion, and unjust to put them back in prison.”

Chambers said his appeal to Kenney created a domino effect for how Corrections plans to handle similar cases.

Another man, 24-year-old Jordan Lybarger of Lincoln, was told Wednesday by the State Parole Office to report to a correctional facility that night.

Lybarger did, but was released and returned to parole the next day, shortly after Chambers talked to Kenney about Hubbard-Williams.

“My conversation with Kenney kind of set a pattern that can be followed as a basis for working toward an overall solution,” Chambers said. “Not everything has been worked out yet. It can be called a work in progress.”

Chambers said he plans to continue working closely with Kenney and the Parole Board to prevent people from returning to prison.

If Chambers had his way, no prisoner caught up in the sentencing miscalculations would have to serve out his or her remaining sentence from behind bars.

“They were out at no fault of their own,” Chambers said. “They did not escape. They served all of the time that was required.”

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