In 2011, Nebraska state senators passed LB 191, a law designed to address prison overcrowding and reduce the expense of overincarceration. The law – based on best practices nationwide – was designed to reward good behavior of those incarcerated by granting them good time, making them eligible for parole earlier.
Contrary to the law’s plain intent, made clear both on the floor of the Unicameral and in the law’s plain language, Nebraska's Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) has adopted a policy to deny the modest good time credit toward a parole eligibility date, apparently determined to resist efforts to reduce overcrowding and expenses. Instead, NDCS applies the good time only to the person’s automatic release date. In some situations, this creates the result of making people who are imprisoned eligible for automatic release with no parole before they are parole eligible.
This case is about ensuring the clear letter of the law is being followed. Good time should be applied to parole eligibility dates, not just automatic release dates.
Nebraska’s prisons are in a state of continuing crisis. As the second most overcrowded prison system in the country, NDCS should be using every tool made available by the Nebraska Legislature to reduce the prison population safely. Moreover, this is just the latest misuse of good time in Nebraska's problem-plagued prisons. Within the last five years, NDCS miscalculated hundreds of sentences, a situation that only came to light because of media reporting.
If we're going to remedy Nebraska's severe prison overcrowding, accurate and appropriate use of good time must play a role.