Nebraska prison sentencing failures causing a stir

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August 6th, 2014

Omaha, NE – Nebraska state prison systems officials have been accused of deliberately miscalculating time off for good behavior which resulted in many prisoners being released before their mandatory minimum sentence had been served.

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One Omaha state senator is now calling for a special session of the state legislature to investigate. Longtime Omaha investigative journalist Joe Jordan is the Managing Editor and Investigative Reporter for Nebraska Watchdog, he joins us to discuss the issues with sentencing.

KVNO: How many prisoner’s sentences were affected, and how long has this been happening?

Joe Jordan: There were hundreds of sentences that were involved. It’s been several years that this has been going on. Many inmates’ sentences in Nebraska prison were reduced by correction officials, not the courts. The people were getting out earlier than anticipated, or their release dates maybe were changed, so instead of being released 10 years from now, they were being released two years.

KVNO: How did the issue of releasing prisoners early come to light?

Joe Jordan: Some investigative reporting by the Omaha World Herald turned the key on this one. Following those reports, then officials began looking into it and realized there was a huge problem and disconnect between the DOC’s sentencing procedures and the state law which had been changed by the Nebraska Supreme court which had been changed in the last year or so.

KVNO: Do we know why the Department of Corrections was letting prisoners out too early and disregarding the two Nebraska Supreme Court sentencing rulings?

Joe Jordan: According to emails, it certainly appears correction officials decided that they’ve felt it was in the department’s best interest to ignore the Supreme Court’s ruling. The only reason it seems to be popping up now and then in the emails correspondences, the officials down the food chain in the DOC were worried about overcrowding, so they felt getting some of these inmates out early was better than having a jam-up inside the prison system.

KVNO: Nebraska State Sen Brad Ashford, is calling for a special session? What are the chances of a special legislative session?

Joe Jordan: At the moment it appears pretty thin. I’ve spoken with Sen. Ashford, he’s talked to Governor Heineman, and the governor has indicated to Sen. Ashford that he is not interested in having a special session. So that means Ashford would need the approval of 33 of the 49 state senators to override the governors decision. That’s usually a difficult sell. This Friday there is a hearing before a special legislative committee, depending on what comes out of that hearing you could see renewed interest in a special session.

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