County jail program funding sought

The Judiciary Committee heard testimony Feb. 1 on a bill that seeks to help certain counties enhance treatment, rehabilitation and diversion programming.

Sen. Danielle Conrad
Sen. Danielle Conrad

LB368, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad, states legislative intent to appropriate $2.1 million in general funds in fiscal year 2023-2024 to create the County Criminal Justice Enhancement Grant program. The program would be administered by the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice and grants would be available to a county containing a primary class city to improve and expand correctional services.

Lincoln currently is the state’s only primary class city.

Under the bill, the commission would be required to develop eligibility criteria for grants and counties would be required to submit an application to the commission to qualify for funding.

Conrad said county jails in Nebraska struggle to provide needed services due to staff and funding shortages. The grant program would “go a long way” in reducing recidivism rates and keeping more people out of the state’s already overcrowded prison system, she said.

“Every dollar that we can invest in alternatives to incarceration is a better value for the taxpayers and has better outcomes for every stakeholder involved,” Conrad said.

A county that receives grant funding under the bill would be required to work with a community partner to incorporate culturally informed substance use treatment and with an accredited postsecondary educational institution with a program in criminal justice research to establish program enhancement and expansion outcomes.

Grant funding would be used to:
• design, expand or implement substance use and cognitive behavioral programming in county jails;
• hire full-time case managers to expand the use of systematic treatment strategies that look to reduce recidivism;
• hire a full-time peer support recovery specialist to provide social support services to jail inmates and to assist in reentry case management;
• provide residential housing with 24-hour support, crisis stabilization and continued individualized recovery and support for reentering inmates with mental health needs;
• enhance the county’s diversion program by adding pre-program services;
• expand diversion options for young adults charged with offenses that currently are ineligible for diversion and hire two full-time case managers to accommodate intensive supervision; and
• provide staff training and hire other employees as necessary.

In support of the bill was Kim Etherton, Director of Lancaster County Community Corrections.
The grant program authorized under LB368 would support expanded programming, such as transitional housing, which in turn would minimize a program participant’s contact with the criminal justice system, she said.

“A key component to success [for individuals leaving incarceration] is a safe, healthy place to live,” Etherton said. “Grant funding will provide opportunities to expand this resource and secure temporary housing options for individuals leaving jail.”

Also in favor of the bill was Brad Johnson, Director of the Lancaster County Department of Corrections. Research shows that programming in correctional settings can reduce recidivism rates, he said, but the Lancaster County jail currently cannot provide all inmates with the necessary programming due to a lack of funding.

“In order to expand these and other program endeavors, more instructors are needed to facilitate programming,” Johnson said. “In order to expand, we have to receive more financial funding.”

Spike Eickholt, testifying on behalf of the ACLU of Nebraska and the Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, also testified in support of LB368. Individuals who reoffend multiple times often have higher needs, such as mental health issues or substance abuse problems, he said, and require more services.

“Eventually they’re going to get out of the jail system  … and we need to have some sort of meaningful transitional and supervisional [programming] so that they’re less likely to come back,” Eichholt said. “That’s why this bill is a good idea.”

No one testified in opposition to LB368 and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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