Emails Show the State Knew Prisoners Had Miscalculated Sentences

By: 10/11 News Email
By: 10/11 News Email

LINCOLN, Neb.-- Some Nebraskans are calling for a criminal investigation of the Department of Correctional Services after internal emails showed officials knew sentences were being calculated incorrectly for hundreds of prisoners and didn't correct the problem.

Emails show corrections officials disregarding a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling last year on mandatory minimum sentences.

Documents obtained by 10/11 show that in a discussion between Jeannene Douglass, a records manager with the Department of Corrections, and Linda Willard, the Assistant Attorney General, Douglass questioned whether they should continue to calculate sentences the way they have always done.

This was in regards to a specific prisoner case.

Douglass said, "Wouldn't the right thing to do be to continue the way we have always done it because it, too, was tried and tested. I don't know. It would be a real mess to have to go back in and recalculate everyone who has mandatory minimum sentences. What do you think?"

In a follow up response to the Attorney Generals office, Douglass said, "Linda [Willard] asked me if we would continue calculating sentences the right way or go with what the Supreme Court says. I said, and she supported me, that we would do what is in the inmates best interest, that being, continue calculating the sentences the way we have always done it."

Douglass continued, "She [Willard] said the inmate, obviously, would not complain since he will serve less time by our calculations. It would also serve the Director's desires, as well, to not increase our population any more than we must."

Documents reveal that other inmates began to question why they were not made aware of good time applications for mandatory minimums in their cases.

Emails retrieved from the Department of Corrections and Attorney Generals Office show that both entities have been aware of this Supreme Court statute regarding good time laws for mandatory minimum sentences since 2002 (Johnson v. Kenney) and the statute was reaffirmed in 2013 (State v. Castillas).

Despite this, hundreds of prisoner sentences were still miscalculated.

Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford said he's going to send a request for a special legislative session for sometime after the November elections.

Their goal would be to address the need for an oversight commission for the Department of Correctional Services.

Omaha attorney James Martin Davis says the internal emails make it clear the sentences were calculated incorrectly on purpose. That could make it a criminal matter.

Gov. Dave Heineman says a thorough review will be completed by a Lincoln law firm to determine what happened inside the corrections department.

A legislative committee that was created to investigate a separate case also plans to widen its probe to include the sentencing errors.


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