Note suggests Heineman, Bruning may have discussed illegal prison program


October 14th, 2014

Lincoln, NE – Until now, testimony about problems in the Nebraska prison system has pointed the figure at mid- and lower-level employees. But at a legislative investigative committee hearing on Friday, that changed.


Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop read into the record a note former Corrections lawyer George Green wrote after meeting with Corrections Director Mike Kenney on July 31, 2014. “Bare, Bruning, Freudenberg, Smith, governor, Kintner, Bell in office when decisions made regarding Lost Boys,” Lathrop read.

In other words, Green was alleging Kenney told him Gov. Dave Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning were present when decisions were made about a program Green thought was illegal.

That program was known as Temporary Alternative Placement, or T-A-P. It allowed seven or eight prisoners who had been mistakenly let out of prison early to remain at home, despite a Nebraska Supreme Court decision.

Green wrote a memo saying the program was not authorized by law. Lathrop said Green’s note reflects what he says Kenney told him when he presented him with that memo.

Director of Corrections Mike Kenney testifies Friday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Director of Corrections Mike Kenney testifies Friday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Kenney said he came up with the T-A-P program on his own. And he told Lathrop he disagreed with what Green wrote. “There was no room with all of these people in it when I invented the T-A-P,” Kenney said. “I think I was in meetings in the room when all these people were there. I couldn’t tell you what specific decisions – but I don’t think it’s tied to this. And if I communicated that to George Green somehow and he misunderstood it, that was an error.”

“We may have to call these people and find out what decisions were made,” Lathrop responded.

Green retired from the Department this summer after admitting he had waited more than a year before reading a Nebraska Supreme Court decision that said prison officials were calculating sentences incorrectly and letting prisoners out too early.

Heineman and Bruning could not immediately be reached for comment. Lathrop said after the hearing the committee will hold a conference call next week to discuss whether to call the governor, the attorney general and others to testify.

Earlier in the hearing, senators heard testimony that officials ignored requests from a dangerous inmate to be committed to a psychiatric hospital.

That inmate, Nikko Jenkins, was convicted of killing four people in Omaha after his release last year. James Davis of the Legislature’s Ombudsman’s office said before his release, Davis told former Corrections Director Bob Houston about Jenkins threats to kill people when he got out. Houston has denied being told about that.

Lathrop noted that Jenkins was requesting to be committed to the Lincoln Regional Center. Prison officials have said they thought Jenkins was pretending to be mentally ill in order to get into an easier situation than being in prison. But Lathrop said Jenkins was still asking to be committed as late as six weeks before he was due to be released.

Lathrop talked to Corrections Deputy Director Larry Wayne about that. “It’s like a bus screaming down the highway and going through barriers that say ‘Road Closed’ and this is the last one — six weeks before he was released. And you’re writing the director to say “this guy’s gone back to his manipulative ways. Can you believe that?” Maybe he was asking for help,” Lathrop said.

“And maybe he chose to do evil acts,” Wayne countered.

Lathrop said no one was apologizing for Jenkins, but the committee members were trying to understand why he was released.

Wayne also described efforts to relieve prison overcrowding by increasing the number of prisoners granted parole. He said Larry Bare, Gov. Dave Heineman’s chief of staff, had also discussed changing the way prison overcrowding was calculated in a way that would have made the problem appear smaller. Wayne said he didn’t recall that anything ever came of what Bare was talking about. A spokesman for the governor declined comment.

The committee has tentatively scheduled its next hearing for Oct. 29.


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