Lincoln Police Chief Meets with President Obama, Advocating for Prison Reform

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LINCOLN, Neb.-- Nebraska isn't alone in the fight to reduce prison overcrowding.

Currently, the state sits at about 155 percent over-capacity. Lawmakers and law enforcement officials have tried to tackle the problem head-on in recent years, advocating for lesser sentences for non-violent offenders and more mental health treatment programs.

While there has been progress, there have also been failures. For example, one legislative bill in 2015 aimed at reducing sentences for crimes like robbery, assaults of a police officer and non-violent drug offenses never passed.

This week, Lincoln Police Chief Jim Peschong joined more than 130 law enforcement officials from across the country, including chiefs from New York and L.A., to brainstorm ways to reduce mass incarceration.

In an exclusive on-camera interview, Peschong spoke with 10/11 News from Washington D.C. regarding this week's discussions. Peschong and other law enforcement officials, part of a group calling themselves Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, met with Obama Thursday.

"This is really meant to take a look at our non-violent criminals," Peschong said, "and try to redirect them so they can be productive members of our community."

The group has several major principles, including adopting policies that prioritize mental health treatments for non-violent offenders, as well as strengthen ties within their respective communities.

Peschong said he thinks Nebraska has already taken steps in the right direction recently. For example, a national advisory group called The Council of State Governments (CSG) met with local lawmakers in 2014, offering recommendations for reducing prison overcrowding.

"I would say Nebraska is ahead of the curve," Peschong said.

"We don't have as many people incarcerated in our prisons or county jails."

But, he said other states face many of the same issues as Nebraska.

"Individuals that may be suffering from some substance abuse or mental health issues are heavily populated in our jails," Peschong said.

"Are we doing our communities and our societies any good by incarcerating these people?"

Where many seem to be in agreement is something needs to be done.

The CSG said in December, 2014, that if Nebraska didn't make changes to the state's system, prison populations will increase by 11 percent and spending will increase by $291 million in the next five years.