Today, Gov. Dave Heineman, Speaker of the Legislature Greg Adams and Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike Heavican announced the launch of Nebraska's comprehensive study of the state's criminal justice system to develop a long-term prison strategy and to increase public safety.
"We are looking for innovative and sensible solutions to our prison challenges," said Gov. Heineman. "I'm pleased that we are beginning the work of this important project. I am hopeful that we can develop cost effective policies that will create a responsible long-term prison strategy and increase public safety."
The Justice Reinvestment Working Group is a 19-member group established by LB 907. It consists of members from all three branches of state government and local government representatives. They will work in collaboration with the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. The CSG Justice Center, in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts and the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), will provide on-the-ground technical assistance. Input will be solicited from stakeholder groups at the state and county level, including district judges, county attorneys, public defenders, probation, parole board members, law enforcement officials, victim advocates, and community treatment providers.
As of May 31, 2014, state prisons housed 5,175 people and were operating at 158 percent of capacity. The prison population is projected to grow an additional 12 percent by 2023, according to the most recent forecast.
"Together, we are committed to maintaining public safety for all Nebraskans," said Speaker Adams, co-chair of the working group. "The policy solutions that we hope will come out of this project will require actions from all three branches of government in order to make improvements across the system. State policymakers from across the country, including Texas, Kansas, and South Dakota, have used this approach to contain correction costs while reinvesting a portion of the savings to help make communities safer."
The working group will also convene for its first meeting later today. The group's policy recommendations are expected to be delivered by the end of this year.
"This project will not only look at what's going on in our prisons, but also will examine alternatives to incarceration and effective community-based programs," said Chief Justice Michael Heavican, co-chair of the working group. "The Supreme Court is committed to sharing data on sentencing and probation to help identify challenges our system may face."
"We applaud the leadership Nebraska officials are demonstrating to advance the Justice Reinvestment Initiative in their state," said Bureau of Justice Assistance Director Denise E. O'Donnell." By launching this project and establishing an inter-branch task force, Nebraska becomes the 22nd state to take important steps through the JRI toward creating new justice reform policies grounded in research and state-specific data that will improve community safety."
"States across the nation are debunking the myth that if you want to reduce crime you have to build more prisons," said Adam Gelb, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' Public Safety Performance Project. "By looking at the state's data and devising new strategies rooted in research, Nebraska leaders have an unprecedented opportunity to reduce crime and incarceration at the same time."