State budget advances, spurs debate over prison reform
LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - This week, lawmakers gave the first green light to a biennial budget bill which would put $350 million toward the construction of a new prison. But the thought of a new prison without prison reform is concerning some state senators.
“The body will be voting to build another prison, and upon that prison being open, that will be overcrowded,” said Sen. Terrell McKinney who represents District 11 in Omaha.
For McKinney, the crisis in Nebraska’s prisons goes further than leaking pipes and cramped conditions in the state penitentiary: it’s system-wide.
“We have people that are serving terms that they shouldn’t be serving in terms of length of sentences,” McKinney added. “It’s not necessarily the admissions; it’s the length of stays.”
LB 50 is one of the bills that aims to tackle that problem. First introduced by former Sen. Suzanne Geist, it’s now been taken up by Sen. Justin Wayne.
It would allow Nebraska inmates to serve the final 15% of their sentences outside of prison walls under strict supervision while employed and working toward rehabilitation. Wayne has said the bill would help reduce recidivism rates.
But McKinney, who said LB 50 doesn’t go far enough, isn’t certain it will even pass.
Last session, a data-driven bill, LB 920, aimed to reduce projected inmate totals over the next decade got axed in a cloture vote.
As things stand, McKinney said it’s possible, even probable, the Nebraska Legislature will approve funding for a new prison without passing meaningful reform.
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