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Lone testifier speaks on altering state's good time rules

November 8, 2013

LINCOLN--Only one person stepped forward to testify Thursday on a proposed revision to Nebraska's good-time rules for prisoners.

The Department of Correctional Services held a public hearing at the Lincoln Regional Center seeking comment on the proposal.

Currently, prisoners can shave off time from their sentences if they are well behaved in prison. The state can take away earned good time if a prisoner does something wrong. The proposed changes would double the amount of good time that could be taken away.

Nebraska's good-time rule came into the spotlight after Nikko Jenkins was released from prison on July 30 and allegedly killed four people in Omaha. During his incarceration Jenkins assaulted a guard, helped incite a riot, attacked inmates and participated in gang activities. He lost a year-and-a-half off good time, but was still released.

Sue Jacob, the lone testifier, said nearly every level of the state government is missing the "ugly truth" about Nebraska's prisons.

"We ought to be talking about the department's mental health diagnosis and treatment procedures," Jacob said. "If headlines are going to be believed, the ugly truth is that the department doesn't have any that solve these mental health problems."

Jacob's two sons are incarcerated; she requested their names not appear in this story. She said the good-time policy largely extended inmates' sentences and worsened prison overcrowding, which was what "the bureaucrats wanted."

Ideally, Jacob said, good time should only be available to nonviolent offenders and be awarded case by case.

Cynthia Bruckner, a 66-year-old Lincoln resident who attended the hearing but did not testify, echoed most of Jacob's views, namely refining good time to give it to those who deserve it.

"There are a lot of good inmates in prison," Bruckner said in an interview.

Bruckner, then 62, and her 42-year-old son were arrested, tried and later incarcerated after being stopped on Interstate 80 in February of 2010 transporting 66 pounds of marijuana. She was released on May 6, 2012, on discretionary parole, which is set to end on Nov. 6, 2014. According to data from the Department of Corrections, she earned 364 days of good time.

The recent controversy on good time is just one of many issues facing Nebraska's prison system. According to State Ombudsman Marshall Lux, the state's prisons are operating at 153 percent of capacity. State senators and the governor have tried to approach crisis holistically. Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford held an interdepartmental hearing addressing prison overcrowding and expanding alternative courts in October, and Omaha Sen. Heath Mello sparred with the governor on the death penalty. Recent dialogue on the death penalty irked Jacob who said "ritual human sacrifice to (the governor's) favorite Egyptian god is truly madness."

Dawn-Renee Smith, legislative and public information coordinator in the Department of Correctional Services, said the proposed change would undergo a review process, and then it would be sent for approval. The governor and the attorney general must approve any changes to the rules and regulations, said George Green, general counsel for the corrections department.

"Eventually, Nebraska will spend more on prisons than it does on universities," Jacob said. "That is a failed policy."

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