It takes a lot of money and people: Nebraska lawmakers look to tackle the staggering cost of locking up criminals

LINCOLN, Nebraska – Legislators in Nebraska seek to address the astronomical cost of incarcerating criminals. The intention is to expand the state’s problem-solving courts, but this will require personnel and funding.

The first problem-solving court in Nebraska was established 25 years ago and has gradually grown.

Here is a list of current options, however not every court district offers them all:

DUI court to drug courts for adults, adolescents, and families.
Court of mental health and veterans’ treatment
Courting adolescents

No one disputes that these types of courts are significantly less expensive than sending someone to prison, and experts claim they are more effective at addressing the fundamental cause of the arrest and preventing it from happening again.

However, several legislators contend that not enough Nebraskans are participating in the programs. District court judges from Nebraska volunteer for problem-solving courts.

A system meant to address the suspect’s underlying problem without sending them to prison. It is a constant commitment for the judge, whose schedule is already packed with cases and hearings.

Justice of the Supreme Court Jeffrey Funke remarked, “Judges perform a number of difficult tasks on the job, so when they have the chance to witness positives, they relish it.”

Tuesday morning in Lincoln, experts appeared before the judicial committee with proposed answers. In 2013, 4% of all felony arrests were handled by problem-solving courts.

According to experts, Nebraska should be about 10%.

Legislators in Nebraska seek to address the astronomical cost of incarcerating criminals.

Allowing county courts to manage a portion of the early caseloads is one way to more than double the number of participants. Legislators are also aware that if this is done, additional mental health resources, personnel, and attorneys will be required to handle the additional workload.

“We began with twenty distinct possibilities on how to proceed. Use referees, magistrates, and additional judges in lieu of or in addition to district court judges. Judge Robert Otte of the Lancaster District Court stated, “I’m not convinced we’ve reached a conclusion yet.”

In conclusion, legislators, judges, and taxpayers recognize the cost savings and societal benefits of problem-solving courts. In a period of overcrowding in Nebraska prisons, research indicate that each person who passes through one of these courts costs taxpayers an average of $3,000.

A year of imprisonment for one person costs more than ten times that much.

Some senators are hoping that a bill to expand problem-solving courts will be tabled sometime after the first of the year.

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