Nebraska Lawmakers Question Earned Time Proposal

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Lincoln, Neb. -- A proposal that would end automatic "good time" credit for violent prisoners in Nebraska is facing scrutiny from lawmakers.

Members of the Judiciary Committee questioned Wednesday whether the bill would work if adequate rehabilitation programs weren't available in Nebraska's prisons.

"Our role is to try to fix what needs to be fixed," Sen. Brad Ashford, of Omaha, said.

"Until we all agree that we're in desperate need of space, we're in desperate need of programming... and to try and fix it."

Ashford argued that, according to what he's heard from various sources, the state doesn't have enough funding and programming in place to re-acclimate inmates back into society.

The bill by Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh would require those convicted of murder, robbery, sexual assault and other violent crimes to behave and participate in rehabilitation programs to earn reductions in their sentences. The bill was introduced on behalf of Gov. Dave Heineman, who has called for reforms in the wake of the Nikko Jenkins case in Omaha.

Sen. Steve Lathrop, of Omaha, said he was trying his best to not make this bill about the Jenkins case.

Some lawmakers also expressed concern that the bill would allow inmates to be put on waiting lists for various programs, and they would then earn "good time" just for being on that list.

Furthermore, Senators say a lot of prisoners are currently waiting until they're near the end of multi-year sentences to begin their programs. And by that point, some Senators believe the program may not be as effective.

Department of Correctional Services Director Michael Kenney spoke in support of the bill, saying it would apply to offenders who pose the greatest risk to the community.