Funds sought for Omaha community corrections facility

The state would fund additional beds for inmates who are preparing to reenter their communities under a bill heard Feb. 5 by the Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Steve Lathrop
Sen. Steve Lathrop

LB916, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, would appropriate $52 million from the General Fund in fiscal year 2020-21 to the state Department of Correctional Services for construction or expansion of a community corrections facility with 300 new beds in the Omaha metropolitan area.

Lathrop said adding community corrections beds would be consistent with the Department of Correctional Services 2014 Master Plan. The current systemwide population is at or above 160 percent of design capacity, he said.

“We’re going to be in an overcrowding emergency on July 1,” Lathrop said. “And I expect that we’re going to stay there almost perpetually unless something is done.”

Lathrop said the only options for solving the crisis are sentencing reform—releasing inmates sooner or shortening sentences—or building more capacity.

Doug Koebernick, inspector general of the Nebraska correctional system, testified in support of the bill. He said it always is better for an inmate to transition back into society from a community corrections setting, where they can be employed outside the facility and reintegrate over time. It is much safer for communities and provides better outcomes for inmates, he said.

Scott Frakes, director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, testified in opposition. He said the corrections master plan needs to be adjusted and that the department is working on their budget request, which he will present to the Appropriations Committee seven months from now.

He said the Legislature has funded the creation of more than 800 beds for the department since 2015 and that the system does not need additional community custody capacity at this time.

“The challenge recently has been keeping all the community custody beds full that are available,” he said, adding that the difficulty for any prison system is getting the right inmates in the right beds at the right time.

“That does not mean forcing people into situations they are not prepared for, including moving them into community custody,” Frakes said.

The committee took no immediate action on LB916.

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