Lincoln, Neb. – As Nebraska’s official prison overcrowding emergency enters another year, no progress has been made alleviating the chronic overcrowding that required the declaration two years ago. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nebraska says the continued failure should motivate Nebraskans to demand that state senators act on the issue in the coming year.
The latest available quarterly report from the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) shows the state’s prisons are collectively at 152% of design capacity, one point higher than when the emergency was declared in the summer of 2020. Stark racial disparities also persist. Today, Black Nebraskans represent more than a quarter of the prison population compared to just 5% of the overall state population. Indigenous and Latinx Nebraskans are also overrepresented.
ACLU of Nebraska Board Member Jason Witmer, a formerly incarcerated Nebraskan, said state leaders must do more to enact policies that will reduce mass incarceration in our state.
“The unwillingness to address the ongoing overcrowding issue reflects leaders’ lack of concern for the safety of the community inside and outside those walls,” Witmer said. “Rather than long-term reforms that will benefit us all, they are moving to saddle Nebraska with a bill for a facility that unbiased statistics show will become part of our problem in less than a decade rather than part of the solution. Such short-sightedness is not a leadership trait that any of us benefit from.”
In 2023, state senators could make a decision on using $270 million in earmarked funds on a new prison. The ACLU of Nebraska continues to advocate for smart justice reform instead of prison construction. The civil rights organization lists recommendations in its 2021 report “Nebraska’s Statehouse-to-Prison Pipeline.”
State senators failed to pass prison reform legislation during their most recent legislative session after a monthslong effort ended in deadlock over a disagreement on sentencing reform.
The ACLU of Nebraska considers sentencing reform a critical element of addressing Nebraska’s prison crises, and data supports that position. Analysis from a nonprofit organization that was invited by the state to study Nebraska’s prisons showed significant growth in prison sentences and mandatory minimums over the last decade, driving overcrowding despite an overall decline in new prison admissions.