(McCook Daily Gazette)
Ninety-two percent of all the offenders sentenced to the Nebraska Department of Corrections Work Ethic Camp in McCook have substance abuse problems.
That's 951 of the 1,033 offenders who have come and gone through the doors of the prison-alternative facility that opened in McCook in April 2001.
Offender No. 1,000, Benjamin Manley of Omaha, admitted that illegal drugs ruled -- and nearly ruined -- his young life. "Life didn't exist for me. It didn't matter if it went on ... or ended," Manley said recently.
At 21 years of age, Manley is too young to give up on life, and his probation officer refused to let him do it.
Manley said his probation officer recommended the Work Ethic Camp last summer, after Manley was found guilty of theft by receiving stolen property. Previous jail and prison time hadn't helped Manley turn his life around. "The probation officer thought I deserved a second chance, that the work camp would be more beneficial for me than prison," Manley said.
By the end of October, 1,033 offenders had come through the admission doors of the work ethic camp, and 169 had been unceremoniously removed from the program. A total of 790 had successfully completed the program.
The current count of offenders is 74.
Manley is from Omaha, Douglas County, which is responsible for about 22 percent of the work camp's total number of offenders. Douglas County has referred 225 offenders. Lancaster County has referred 106 offenders; followed by these counties:
Hall, 68; Sarpy, 44; Adams and Dodge, 38 each; Gage, 32; Red Willow, 29; Buffalo, 28; Dakota, 27; Buffalo, 26; Saunders, Scottsbluff and Madison, 23 each; Saline, 20; Cass, 17; Dawson, 16; Phelps, 15; Fillmore, Johnson and Lincoln, 13 each; Hamilton, 12; Cheyenne and Custer, 11 each; Nemaha, Platte and Richardson, 10 each; Morrill, Clay, Bob Butte and Washington, 9 each; Butler, Merrick, Otoe and Holt, 7 each; Howard, Jefferson, Cuming and Sheridan, 6 each; Burt, 5; Furnas, Hitchcock, Kearney, Nance and Nuckolls, 4 each; Colfax, Dawes, Franklin, Gosper, Keith and Thayer, 3 each; Antelope, Dixon, Greeley, Hayes, Kimball, Seward and Pierce, 2 each.
District courts in each of these counties have sentenced one person to the work ethic camp: Dundy, Boone, Cedar, Cherry, Garden, Grant, Harlan, Perkins, Polk, Stanton, Valley, Wayne, Webster and York.
An ethnic breakdown of offenders indicates this breakdown:
* Caucasian -- 789
* African-American -- 139
* Hispanic -- 70
* Native American -- 20
* Asian-American -- 9
* Other -- 7
The oldest was 53; the youngest, 16. The average age is 28.
There have been 883 males and 151 females.
Seventy of Nebraska's 90 counties have sentenced someone to the work ethic camp for these offenses:
* Theft or burglary-- 465
* Drug offense -- 394
|* Forgery, unauthorized/illegal use of a transaction device, issuing a bad check||-- 57|
* Other (criminal mischief, terroristic threats, escape) -- 118
Manley had not finished high school, but had earned his General Educational Development degree before he entered the WEC program. However, of the total offenders since 2001, 524 have needed a GED or an Adult Basic Education degree upon admission. A total of 216 offenders have earned their GED's while at WEC.
The highest education level of all offenders has been junior college or college.
Work Camp offenders have logged these road crew hours:
Total hours in October -- 2,772
Total hours for 2005 -- 33,080
Total hours for 2004 -- 44,091
Total hours 2001 -- 168,111
Although Manley has about a month left on his 120-day stay at the work camp, it appears he sincerely wants to make the changes necessary to turn his life around. With determination and perhaps a little luck, Manley may be among the 84 percent who successfully complete the Work Ethic Camp program.