The police violence of 2020 has brought to the national stage what most Nebraskans of color experience daily: racial injustices across our criminal justice system. The color of your skin should never be a factor of whether you are allowed equal protection under the law. We the people means all of us. It is time we acknowledged the institutional racism that is inherent in our prison, police and criminal justice system and prioritize funding for programs that work to reduce these injustices.
SMART JUSTICE REFORM
Nebraska has a prison overcrowding crisis, among the worst in the nation. What is even more alarming is the number of Nebraskans in prison that are disproportionately Black, followed closely by Latinx and Native American Nebraskans. This legislative session, we've seen a wave of smart reform bills introduced – but even as we push to pass them, we must also oppose some proposals that would hurt Nebraska’s journey toward racial justice.
Most importantly, we cannot build our way out of a prison overcrowding crisis nor continue with the same opaque practices in our criminal justice system any longer. When faced with the choice of spending $230 million of taxpayer dollars on a new prison or investing in diversion programs and smart justice reform, senators must choose reform. Taxpayer dollars would be much better spent on smart justice programs to keep people out of prison rather than a new one that a majority of Nebraskans don’t even want.
When faced with closed-door conversations or increased prosecutorial transparency, senators must choose transparency. Prosecutors possess immense power to carry out justice, yet their tough-on-crime approaches often lead to increased prison populations, mass incarceration and glaring racial disparities. Transparency in the prosecutor’s office can help the public better understand our incarceration crisis and identify disparities that could promote improved policies.
Nebraska’s youth deserve support and compassion, not “tough-on-crime” responses to misbehavior. We support legislation that protects youth and creates a system that is not punitive but transformative.
Nebraskans are well aware of the overcrowding crisis in our prisons. Coupled with the dangers of COVID-19, it is critical that we prioritize legislation that reduces time in prison for low-level offenders and create programs that keep our fellow Nebraskans out of an already overcrowded prison system. This includes ending predatory bail practices (LB636) that put potentially innocent Nebraskans at risk and in jail as the await a fair trial and ensuring we stop legislation that seeks to profile and violate the privacy of arrested Nebraskans before trial (LB496). For those Nebraskans that remain in prison, we must support legislation that guarantees human conditions of confinement.
A global pandemic is not the time to waste tax dollars and law enforcement energy on increasing penalties, instituting harsher charges or creating barriers for bail and parole. We must protect all Nebraskans by ensuring the state’s criminal justice system protects all of us and strengthens communities, not hurts them. The system is broken, and we desperately need to make changes to stop the revolving door that compounds harm, fuels injustice and drains taxpayer resources. No new prison. We need smart justice reform.
About this series
2021 holds the promise for meaningful change. At the start of it all is Nebraska's long 90-day legislative session. As our state senators face key issues, we need them to make the right choices. Your advocacy can help. We analyzed the hundreds of new bills that have been introduced and sorted civil rights priorities into eight categories. We call it the ACLU 8. These lists are not exhaustive and only reflect bills we've identified as top priorities or top threats. We encourage you to find your senator and tell them your priorities.