Prison Reform Bill Has Some New Looks

Lincoln, Neb.-- Lawmakers said they weren't sure how implementing a supervised release program fit into overall prison reform, so, they're now holding off.

But, one former felon and some state senators agree that the bigger issue is making sure inmates get the help they need before their sentences are up, which is still a major part of the bill.

That former felon, Shon Hopwood, spent 10 years in federal prison for his role in robbing five banks.

Now, the native of David City, Neb., is finishing up law school in Washington, and travels the country to make sure everyone knows the current prison system nationwide is broken.

"Eventually," Hopwood said, "you reach a tipping point to where all your prisons become incredibly violent. And then, what happens is, when people are stuck in violent places for long periods of time, they don't rehabilitate."

Though supervised release changes have been put on the back burner, state Senators said the bill's priorities are still intact.

"The parole board said look," Sen. Colby Coash, of Lincoln, said, "we need more vocational training so that when we parole an inmate, they're going out and finding and have connections to work. Not having work is one of the biggest factors to an inmate coming back into the system."

This training wasn't in the initial bill, but now, lawmakers went to devote millions to the cause.

Coash said they couldn't quite find where supervised release fit into overall prison reform. Now, the Council of State Governments is going to evaluate the Nebraska corrections system to figure out release changes fit into the overall picture. Coash said release will likely be brought up during next year's session.

Another big change - requiring inmates to finish personalized rehabilitation programs before 80 percent of their sentence is up. At reform hearings, some state Senators said a large portion of inmates are waiting far too long to get the skills and, in some cases, mental health help they need to come back into society.

And, according to Hopwood, two thirds of inmates nationwide are re-offending once they leave prison, and that's mainly because they're leaving prison without skills to transition back into every day life.

"When people are coming out," Hopwood said, "we need to be able to help them with mental health treatment [and] finding them a place to live."

Hopwood said investing the money into these programs will save taxpayers millions, especially since it costs about $35,000 to keep one inmate behind bars every year.

Another addition to the bill is preventing public employers from asking job applicants if they've been convicted of a crime. It's commonly referred to as "ban the box."

Coash said the prison reform bill made it out of committee this week, and that he expects it to be debated on the floor next week.


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