Debate in the Nebraska Legislature over overcrowded state prisons

OMAHA, Nebraska (Nebraska) — The state appears poised to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to replace the public penitentiary system, but research, including the state’s own research, says it won’t be enough.

The state study says Nebraska’s prison population will rise from 5,800 to 7,400 by 2030, that is, within seven years. It will take five years to build a replacement penitentiary that will hold about 1,500 inmates, meaning by 2030 there will be 1,500 inmates with nowhere to go unless something changes.

“The Nebraska State Penitentiary should be closed, not replaced,” said Diane Amdor, staff lawyer for Nebraska Appleseed. “The state must stop investing in expanding the excessive physical infrastructure of our criminal justice system.”

“Tecumseh Correctional Facility continues to be understaffed despite positive progress over the past year,” said Doug Kobernick, Inspector General of the Nebraska Department of Corrections. “So we’re seeing some progress, but there are still issues and I just want to make sure everyone knows about it.”

The prison, replacing the aging government pen, is worth $335 million. It is not clear if there are buildings on the site that could still be useful, or if everything should be destroyed.

“This project can no longer be delayed,” said Diane Sabatka, interim director of the Department of Corrections. “As you may remember, NSP recently lost its housing due to a water main break, which resulted in the relocation of 140 prisoners. These beds will not be used for the foreseeable future. This is an example of an aging infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, the Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court has suggested this piece of the puzzle when it comes to the rehabilitation aspect.

“Every day in Nebraska, approximately 14,000 adults and approximately 2,500 juveniles are on probation,” said Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Hevikan. “The median annual cost of supervising an adult intern is $5,500 per year. Compare that to the cost of incarceration in the Nebraska prison system, which is roughly $42,000 a year.”

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