Nonviolent inmates could be released earlier

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November 8th, 2010

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Community Corrections Center-Lincoln, NE (Photo courtesy NDCS, corrections.nebraska.gov)

Lincoln, NE – Nonviolent inmates will get out of prison earlier, under a plan being implemented by the Department of Correctional Services.  Three factors are driving the plan, according to Corrections Director Bob Houston.  First, a desire to maintain or improve public safety; second a need to keep prison overcrowding under control; and third, a need to save money in tight budget times.  Houston explains the essence of the plan this way:

“We think that we can have people considered for parole, or make recommendations to the parole board sooner in a person’s incarceration [keeping] in mind that what they were doing in the institution can be done through a re-entry program that we’ve established and strengthened over the last five or six years.”

Houston said he’s not talking about changing the time when inmates are eligible for parole – that’s set by the courts. But he said doing things like evaluating inmates for substance abuse and parole risk can be done sooner, so when they become eligible for parole, prisoners can be moved out of prison more quickly.  Each inmate released saves the state on average $5,650 a year, Houston added. So the initial goal of reducing the prison population by 260 would save about $1.4 million, plus another $765,000 by cutting 15 to 17 prison staff positions. But Houston said that isn’t the only consideration.

“First of all,” he said, “we think it’s the right thing to do, whether there’s budget cuts or not. The second thing is, we know we need to lower our prison population. We just can’t let it go up.”

The population of the state’s prisons is already averaging 140% of capacity. If that number gets too much higher, the courts could step in and order the prison population reduced.

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