Bill seeks to reform parole board

Individuals with experience in the state’s correctional system would gain seats on the Board of Parole under a bill considered by the Judiciary Committee March 2.

Sen. Terrell McKinney
Sen. Terrell McKinney

LB631, sponsored by Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha, would require the board to include one member who is a formerly incarcerated individual and one member with experience in restorative justice and reentry. In addition, members would be considered to be in “neglect of duty” if they miss three hearings of the parole board in a calendar year and parole could not be denied based on an inmate’s lack of access to programming.

McKinney offered an amendment that, among other provisions, would provide a code of ethics and a training requirement in cultural competency and implicit bias for board members. He said board members need to understand their role in integrating individuals back into society and that problems with the state’s prison system that are out of an incarcerated person’s control should not keep them from being paroled.

“The Board of Parole has an important role in our state, in our efforts to address our failed criminal justice system,” McKinney said. “This cannot be solved by building another prison — or two prisons. We must have a functioning board that understands those that come before them.”

Jason Witmer, who said he was formerly incarcerated and has been out of prison for years, testified in favor of the bill. The measure would increase diversity on the parole board, he said, and add the important perspective of someone who was formerly incarcerated and understands the challenges of reintegrating into society.

Also testifying in support was Spike Eickholt of the ACLU of Nebraska, who said the state is underutilizing parole. In 2020, only 58 percent of eligible offenders were placed on parole, he said, and there are almost 1,000 inmates who currently have are parole eligible.

“LB631 not only provides for diversity … on the Board of Parole, it requires regular meetings and attendance and a quorum requirement for the board to do their job because it is an important function for the state of Nebraska,” Eickholt said.

Board of Parole member Bob Twiss testified on his own behalf in opposition to the bill, which he characterized as going “way, way too far” in its efforts to reform the board.

In a few cases, he said, individuals have been deferred for a month due to recusals by members but, contrary to media reports, no one in Nebraska has been denied parole due to a lack of attendance by board members.

“There was never, ever a time when the Board of Parole did not have a quorum,” Twiss said, adding that board members do not receive sick or vacation leave and sometimes must be absent from a hearing.

The committee took no immediate action on LB631.

Bookmark and Share