Senators consider inmate earned time, electronic monitoring proposals

Inmate rehabilitation and supervision after release from prison were the topics of two bills considered by the Judiciary Committee Feb. 18.

Under LB425, introduced by Ralston Sen. Merv Riepe, prisoners could earn up to 15 days of sentence reductions for every 30 days they participate in a vocational, educational, work or treatment program. The state Department of Correctional Services could apply the reductions only toward eligibility for parole or mandatory supervision.

The bill also would mandate that inmates who violate department rules could have their accrued sentence reductions forfeited or suspended. Sentence reductions granted as part of the department’s existing “good time” program, which automatically reduces sentences by 50 percent, would be subject to the same policy.

Riepe said he introduced the bill to contribute to the ongoing discussion of Nebraska’s prison reform efforts. Requiring inmates to earn sentence reductions via program participation, he said, will better prepare them to rejoin society.

Todd Schmaderer, Omaha police chief, testified in support of the bill, saying Nebraska has the highest number of inmates in the country who are released without preparatory programs or supervision. The department’s current good-time system only reinforces good behavior among individuals still in prison, Schmaderer said. Participation in rehabilitation programs as part of an earned-time system could result in reduced recidivism after inmates are released, he said.

“Good time could be used for so much more than just controlling behavior,” he said.

Alan Peterson, representing American Civil Liberties Union Nebraska, testified in opposition to the bill, saying the department is not prepared to establish such a program. He said that without the required rehabilitation and socialization programs in place, inmates could not earn sentence reductions.

LB426, also introduced by Riepe, would require inmates convicted of violent crimes to be enrolled by the Office of Parole Administration in an electronic monitoring plan for at least 90 days when released on furlough or parole. The bill would apply only to inmates convicted of first and second degree murder, manslaughter, first degree assault, kidnapping, first degree sexual assault or robbery.

Electronic monitoring of recently released parolees would create safer communities, Riepe said, because they are most likely to reoffend in the first 90 days following their release.

Marty Bilek of the Omaha Mayor’s Office testified in support of the bill, saying that in 2013, 1,006 inmates were released in Nebraska without parole or supervision. With better monitoring, Bilek said, parolees would more likely avoid reverting to a criminal lifestyle. Without supervision, he said, “they are set up for failure.”

Peterson also spoke in opposition to LB426, saying the bill’s language is vague regarding how long monitoring devices must be worn, and that a provision allowing the department to charge parolees a fee to defray the monitoring program may be unconstitutional.

The committee took no immediate action on the bills.

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