New rules for inmate sentence reduction proposed

Nebraska’s most violent prison inmates would have to earn “good time” reductions to their sentences under legislation heard by the Judiciary Committee Feb. 12.

LB832, introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, would require violent offenders to earn sentence reductions by participating in programs approved by the state Department of Correctional Services. The bill would apply only to inmates convicted of violent crimes such as murder, manslaughter, assault, kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery and using a deadly weapon to commit a felony.

Current law automatically awards all inmates a 50 percent sentence reduction based on good behavior. Under LB832, violent offenders instead would receive a 25 percent sentence reduction for good behavior and an additional 25 percent reduction for participation in rehabilitation programs. That programming would include academic and vocational education, substance abuse treatment and mental health and psychiatric treatment, which includes criminal personality programming and work programs.

Lautenbaugh said the bill simply would shift more of the responsibility for sentence reductions to certain inmates.

“It’s a philosophical approach for me, I think it just makes sense to have [good time] be earned,” he said.

Mike Kenney, director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, testified in support of the bill, saying it would hold the most violent offenders to a higher standard of conduct while in prison.

“Earned time would help to develop, in prison, a pattern of behavior that is considerate of others and in keeping with good conduct in society,” Kenney said.

“With our current system violent offenders have little motivation to work on individually crafted rehabilitation plans,” said John Freudenberg of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office. “If we want rehabilitation programs to be effective, there has to be a reason for offenders to participate,” he said.

Chuck Freyermuth, uncle of murder victim Andrea Kruger, testified in support of LB832, saying the bill focuses on the inmates who need the most help before rejoining society.

“This demographic is the breeding ground which gives rise to violent career criminals and it is the exact population that you have a responsibility to protect us from,” he said.

Alan Peterson of American Civil Liberties Union Nebraska called LB832 an “illusory nonsolution.” Testifying in opposition to the bill, he said using the programs as incentive for early release will not succeed because inmates currently do not have adequate access to rehabilitative programming.

The committee took no immediate action on LB832.

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