Prison reform measures passed

Senators gave final approval April 10 to a measure that initiates prison reform in Nebraska.

Introduced by Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford, LB907 is intended to reduce the recidivism rate of offenders released from prison.

The measure appropriates to the state Office of Probation Administration $5 million to expand mental health services and $3.8 million to expand new reporting centers, $5 million to the state Department of Correctional Services to create the vocational and life skills program and $200,000 to establish the Nebraska Center for Justice Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

The bill also directs the department to develop a reentry program to transition inmates into communities and ensure an inmate’s rehabilitation/reentry program is complete or near completion upon the inmate serving 80 percent of his or her sentence.

LB907 also:
• requires parole officers to assist parolees and inmates prior to release in accessing housing and mental and physical health care;
• permits supervision of parolees via global positioning systems and other monitoring technology;
• directs the Commission on Public Advocacy to identify areas in Nebraska that need legal professionals; and
• creates the Nebraska Justice Reinvestment Working Group, comprising members selected by the governor, chief justice of the supreme court and speaker of the legislature. The group will assist the Council of State Governments Justice Center in producing a report by Sept. 1, 2015, that prescribes how to reduce prison overcrowding.

The bill includes provisions of two other bills.

LB808, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad, provides $500,000 to expand a student loan assistance program for attorneys who provide public legal service in rural Nebraska. Recipients will be eligible for $6,000 a year in loan forgiveness for at least three years of practice in areas with a population of less than 15,000.

LB932, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, prohibits the state and political subdivisions from asking job applicants to disclose their criminal history until the applicant has been determined to meet the minimum employment qualifications. Law enforcement agencies are exempt from the restriction, as are school districts when a criminal record relates to sexual or physical abuse.

Senators passed the bill with an emergency clause on a 46-0 vote.

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