Funds sought to house prisoners in local jails

The Appropriations Committee heard testimony March 6 on a bill that would fund an effort to house prison inmates in local jails for work release purposes.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist20' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. John McCollister'>Sen. John McCollister</a>
Sen. John McCollister

Omaha Sen. John McCollister, sponsor of LB378, said it would modify and extend for one year a program that otherwise would expire at the end of the current fiscal year in June. The program was designed in 2014 to ease overcrowding at state facilities, he said, but was not limited to any specific set of inmates.

The bill would appropriate $5 million in general funds to the state Department of Correctional Services to be used to house prisoners classified as community corrections inmates in county jails where their parole or release would be located.

McCollister said the program likely would not need the entire $5 million. Inmates on work release in Lincoln and Omaha pay $12 a day into the system, he said, and LB378 could operate in a similar manner. In addition, he said, the program would provide flexibility for the department to address overcrowding and provide benefits to inmates.

“If a person is about to re-enter society, allowing them to find a job in their home community and re-establish family ties will help them achieve success,” he said.

Doug Koebernick, inspector general of the Nebraska correctional system, testified in support of the bill, saying several rural counties have space available and have expressed interest in participating in the program. He suggested the possibility of a pilot program that could involve fewer inmates with a lower cost to the state, noting that the original program at one time included more than 200 inmates.

“If a local jail has beds that are free and could be used for work release, this could continue to relieve pressure on the state correctional system while also providing enhanced opportunities for inmates to transition into their home communities,” Koebernick said.

The bill also would require the state Board of Parole to provide quarterly reports to the governor and the Legislature regarding the number of inmates housed at county jails for work release purposes, how many have been paroled to those communities and whether the work release opportunities led to continued employment of parolees.

The department would be required to report regarding plans for use of future appropriations and work release needs in relation to community corrections construction.

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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