Saturday, December 22, 2012

Nebraska reopens prison unit, needs more staff

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services is requesting an additional $5 million from lawmakers to hire new staff and reopen a housing unit at the Omaha Correctional Center that closed last year, according to The Journal Star. The request follows budget cuts in fiscal year 2011 that eliminated 70 full-time positions within the state corrections system.

A two-year effort to cut costs and ease prison overcrowding by paroling more inmates is falling short, thanks to a surge of new inmates and offenders who are serving longer sentences. The state prison facilities are holding steady at about 140 percent of their capacity, as they were last year.

The number of inmates paroled has surged during the past three years, from 848 in fiscal year 2010 to 1,323 in the 2012 fiscal year, according to the department, reported The Journal Star.

The number of prison admissions has risen during the same time period, from 2,874 to 3,047. Robinson said the prison growth also is due to inmates who are serving longer sentences, meaning that fewer are leaving and offsetting the new arrivals.

In fiscal year 2010, the average daily population in Nebraska's prisons was 4,462. The number since has grown to 4,609 in fiscal year 2012, according to the department.

According to The Journal Star, Nebraska is among several states that have looked to reduce their inmate populations in the past two years.

California adopted a program last year to reduce the prison population by handing over paroled inmates to county probation officers.

The Illinois Legislature passed a bill this year that reduced prisoner sentences for good behavior and participation in re-entry programs. In May, Kansas lawmakers approved legislation that gives judges more discretion when sentencing low-level drug offenders who have only one prior conviction.

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