Expanding role for Work Ethic Camp is a good idea

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Releasing prisoners just because we don't have enough room for them is a bad idea.

But giving prisoners a chance to prove themselves in order to earn an early release may be in order, especially in the face of the state's overcrowded prison system, now standing at 138 percent of capacity.

Add to that the fact that the Nebraska Department of Corrections actually has open beds, and you can see the logic behind LB83.

Prisoners, other than sex offenders, who face nine to 18 months of parole could be released in four months if they successfully complete the Work Ethic Camp's 180 program.

"They can sit in prison another couple of years, or come to this program and have some living skills," WEC Superintendent Raleigh Haas. "We have to get them better prepared than just turning them out."

Although Robert Houston, director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, assures Gov. Dave Heineman that the state prison system continues to operate safely, a state law passed in 2003 allows the governor to declare an emergency and order prisoners to be released on parole when the system reaches 140 percent of capacity.

Former State Sen. Kermit Brashear of Omaha warned when the law was passed that "failure to address inmate overcrowding will result in federal litigation that will be expensive for the state to defend and could result in costly remedies imposed by the courts."

Haas said the 100-bed Work Ethic Camp could easily manage 110 to 120 people without immediate expansion of staff or space.

In the end, it will always be up to the individual offender whether he or she becomes a productive member of society. But, especially in light of the current conditions, giving them another chance to succeed is a good idea.

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