Judiciary Committee tees up proposal for ‘mandatory’ supervised release

‘We can get them out, working jobs,’ says key Nebraska lawmaker

By: - April 25, 2023 6:30 pm

Staff shortages at the state Reception and Treatment Center on the western edge of Lincoln drew concerns in a recent annual report to the Nebraska Legislature. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — Too many of Nebraska’s most violent inmates are “jamming out” of prison without participating in rehabilitation programs and without supervision once they’re on the outside,  according to State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha.

On Tuesday, Wayne, the chairman of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, explained his proposal to require such inmates to serve a period of “mandatory” supervision after they’re released, in hopes of reducing the need for new prisons and reducing repeat crimes.

Final 15% of sentence out of prison

Under the proposal, inmates would serve the final 15% of their prison sentence outside prison walls, under strict supervision in halfway-type houses. while employed and engaged in rehabilitation efforts.

State Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska News Service)

If they misbehave, they would be sent back to prison.

 “We can get them out, working jobs and giving them the services they need, without reducing their sentence,” Wayne said.

‘Has to be the right people’

It has to be the right people,” he added. “We can’t harm public safety. We have to make sure they’re monitored.”

Such a program would become the featured item in a package of criminal justice reform proposals assembled by the Judiciary Committee, which deals with criminal sentencing.

Last week, on a 4-3 vote, the committee advanced the package, Legislative Bill 50. On Tuesday, committee members met in an executive session to discuss aspects of the bill and what aspects had the most support.

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen appointed Carolyn Bosn, a former prosecutor, to the Nebraska Legislature on April 6 to replace State Sen. Suzanne Geist, who resigned to run full-time for Lincoln mayor. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

One senator on the committee, Carolyn Bosn of Lincoln, hadn’t yet been appointed to join the Judiciary Committee when LB 50 was voted out.

Bosn, who was appointed to fill the vacancy left when Sen. Suzanne Geist resigned, is a former Lancaster County deputy prosecutor. Many of the queries about “what can you support?” were directed her way during the Tuesday executive session because of her experience in court.

Bosn responded with several questions about how “mandatory” supervised release would work and about other aspects of LB 50.

Wayne said the idea of mandatory supervised release came from Douglas County Sheriff Aaron Hanson and is something that has been used in Florida and Texas.

Right now, the senator said, about one-third of Nebraska’s most violent inmates and sex offenders leave prison at the end of their sentence — known as “jamming out” — without opting to participate in rehabilitation programs or parole supervision.

Wayne said that mandatory supervised release of all inmates — it’s now required of low-level offenders — might improve the state’s recidivism rate. Right now, just under 30% of all prison inmates reoffend within three years of their release.

Moving inmates out of prison and into jobs and monitoring by parole officers could also stave off the state’s need to build additional new prisons, Wayne said.

Right now, state lawmakers appear ready to approve a new, $366-million prison this year. But inmate population projections indicate a second, new prison will be needed unless something is done to reduce the sentencing of criminals to behind bars.

Wayne said he wants to get something passed this year so the state can begin building up its capability to supervise more inmates. He estimated that 500 to 1,000 additional inmates could be put on supervised release, if the right job and halfway house programs are put in place.

LB 50, Wayne said, could be debated next month, after state lawmakers complete their discussion of the state budget.


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.