Senators to investigate prison’s management of inmate

Lawmakers approved a resolution March 7 directing the Legislature to conduct its own investigation of a former prison inmate suspected of multiple murders.

The month after Nikko Jenkins’ July 2013 release from the Nebraska State Penitentiary, he allegedly killed four people in Omaha. Jenkins was found by an ombudsman’s report to have requested continued incarceration because he feared he would kill people upon his release.

Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop introduced LR424, which establishes the Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee to study the circumstances of Jenkins’ incarceration and release. The committee will issue a report to the Legislature by Dec. 15, 2014.

The Executive Board appointed seven state senators to serve on the committee: Sens. Kate Bolz, Ernie Chambers, Bob Krist, Steve Lathrop, Heath Mello, Paul Schumacher and Les Seiler.

The resolution authorizes the committee to study the following with respect to the state Department of Correctional Services:
• administration of good time laws;
• policies relating to the segregation of inmates;
• adequacy of programs designed to rehabilitate inmates;
• availability of mental health care and measures in place to ensure that inmates receive appropriate mental health care or confinement through the civil commitment process; and
• transition of inmates from incarceration to the community at large.

Regarding Jenkins specifically, the committee plans to study the inmate’s:
• criminal history and sentences received;
• involvement in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems;
• requests for mental health treatment and how the requests were considered; and
• threats to kill people upon his release and how officials responded to those threats.

“The public deserves to know how Nikko Jenkins was permitted to walk the streets of the city of Omaha and ultimately be allegedly responsible for the deaths of four people,” Lathrop said. “And we need to know more about the administration of the Department of Corrections.”

Lathrop said the Jenkins case and prison overcrowding has created a “perfect storm” of correctional problems that the Legislature needs to address now.

“We should get to the bottom of what happened because there should be accountability in state government,” Lathrop said. “This committee will be a vehicle for gathering information to facilitate the necessary reforms in the Department of Corrections.”

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers spoke in favor of the resolution. He said that the department should be held accountable for Jenkins’ actions because of prison officials’ refusal to heed Jenkins’ pleas for mental health help and the excessive amount of time Jenkins spent in solitary confinement.

‘They created a monster, as sure as Victor Frankenstein created a monster when he built Adam,” Chambers said.

Senators adopted the resolution 31-0.

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