Hassebrook outlines prison reform plan

Hassebrook outlines prison reform plan

July 10, 2014 -- Lincoln Journal Star

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chuck Hassebrook said Wednesday he would expand community programs and alternatives for nonviolent offenders in an effort to more effectively curb criminal behavior while avoiding construction of a new state prison.

Hassebrook said he'd also propose that the state invest in more long-term solutions such as early childhood education and early job training that could help reduce future prison and public assistance costs.

As Nebraska confronts substantial overcrowding of its state prisons, he said, "the option of building or leasing new prison space must be on the table."

But, he said, "I will take every responsible step to avoid that expensive option while protecting Nebraskans from dangerous criminals."

As governor, Hassebrook said, he would propose and finalize regulations to "take every day of automatically granted good time away from prisoners who repeatedly break prison rules, attack guards or assault other prisoners."

Under Nebraska's good time law, prisoners essentially receive a one-day reduction in their sentences for every day served. Gov. Dave Heineman has proposed that the law be changed to require prisoners to "earn" each day of good time.

If he's elected, Hassebrook said, "the buck will stop at my desk to ensure that all sentencing statutes are fully and faithfully implemented."

His statement on prison policy comes in the wake of the premature release of several hundred prisoners who had not fully served their sentences because of administrative errors in determining the requirements of mandatory minimum sentences.

"The failures of recent years would not have happened under my watch," Hassebrook said, "and will not happen again under my watch."

Recalculation of sentences to correct administrative errors has added time in prison for nearly 600 current inmates. The errors in determining required length of incarceration were uncovered by an Omaha World-Herald investigation.

Hassebrook said he would support expansion of drug, veterans, young adult and mental health courts for nonviolent offenders, all of which could impose community programming requirements in lieu of imprisonment.

"Such courts cost a small fraction of prison and have proven far more effective at correcting criminal behavior," he said.

"I will move parole-eligible, nonviolent offenders out of prisons and into drug, veteran, young adult and mental health courts if they would have been eligible (for those options) when sentenced.

"I will expand job training and mental health treatment for inmates and provide supervision and job assistance to every inmate upon his or her release to reduce the rate of recidivism and future demands on the prison system."

Hassebrook is matched against Republican nominee Pete Ricketts in the gubernatorial contest.

Ricketts has said he is "not convinced we need to build new prisons" and has proposed investment in effective probation services, drug courts and veterans courts.

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