Earlier parole eligibility clears first round

A bill that seeks to address the overcrowding crisis in Nebraska’s correctional system was advanced from general file Aug. 4.

Sen. Steve Lathrop
Sen. Steve Lathrop

Under LB1004, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, a committed offender automatically would be eligible for parole within two years of their mandatory discharge date, unless they are eligible for parole at an earlier date.

The bill has the potential to provide relief within the state’s overcrowded prison system, Lathrop said, while incentivizing inmates to complete programming and be released on parole, rather than being discharged with no supervision.

“The solution to overcrowding ultimately is going to be some thoughtful combination of reforms and building,” he said. “But we can’t possibly build our way out of it [alone].”

A Judiciary Committee amendment, adopted 30-1, included provisions of LB1036, originally introduced by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld. As amended, it would change the age of consent for health care decisions from 19 to 18. It also would allow a person under 19 who is in the custody of the correctional system to consent to medical and mental health care decisions.

The amendment also would require the director of the division of parole supervision to establish caseload standards for parole service and provide annual caseload reports to the Legislature beginning in January 2021.

Lathrop introduced an amendment that would make LB1004 prospective, meaning it would not apply retroactively to people already serving sentences.

Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer spoke in support of the bill, saying that changing correctional leadership alone would not fix the overcrowding emergency.

“When you sit down with [inmates] and talk to them … it almost always comes back to programming and how frustrated they are,” he said. “We have to think outside of the box. To just simply say that we can’t do it because it’s too hard isn’t the answer.”

Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair said he disagreed with making potentially long-lasting policy decisions based on a temporary overcrowding emergency.

“If we need to make more room, then I believe in building a new prison,” he said. “Or we should change the laws, not based on prison overcrowding, but because we believe they are unjust and it’s the right thing to do to direct our society in a way that we feel is right.”

Gretna Sen. Andrew La Grone filed a series of amendments in an attempt to delay a vote on the bill, but ultimately withdrew them.

Following the 29-0 adoption of the Lathrop amendment, senators voted 29-2 to advance LB1004 to select file.

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