Bill would expand role for Work Ethic Camp

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Officials at the Nebraska Department of Corrections Work Ethic Camp are hopeful LB83 will be passed by the Legislature and help fill empty bed space at the camp -- and reduce over crowding in state prisons.

Introduced by Sen. John Synowiecki of Omaha, LB83 faced no opposition at its first hearing in the Judiciary Committee Jan. 25, said Raleigh Haas, superintendent of the Work Ethic Camp.

The bill would allow prison inmates at Nebraska correctional facilities to earn an earlier release if they choose to attend the 180-day program at the Work Ethic Camp. Barring sex offenders, prison inmates who face 9-18 months of parole could be released instead after four months if they successfully complete the program.

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

The Work Ethic Camp has a 100-bed capacity and currently houses 67 male and female offenders who have been sentenced to intensified supervised probation for felony and misdemeanor crimes. Offenders advance in phases through an intensive program that includes vocational training, behavior modification, substance abuse awareness and education.

He expected population at the camp would grow to 110-120, which he said the facility would be able to manage based on classroom size and kitchen facilities.

The benefits of LB83 would be three-fold, Haas said: it would reduce prison overcrowding, currently at 138 percent capacity, utilize bed space at the camp and equip inmates with living skills.

Eligible prison inmates would have approval from the State Parole Board before attending, he said, and be aware of what the Work Ethic program entails.

"They'll know in advance what to expect," Haas said. "There are no TVs or CD players here."

If an inmate starts the Work Ethic Camp program and chooses not to complete it, they would face another Parole Board hearing, he said. If an inmates tries to escape, it will be considered a parole violation and he or she would be taken back to the original institution.

Haas estimated that if the bill is approved, inmates would arrive gradually sometime late summer and bring capacity to 110-120. Once they arrive, they would be expected to progress through the program with the rest of the offenders, working up to road crew privileges.

Those who successfully complete the program would have a bus ticket purchased for them if they left the facility on a Monday or be allowed to leave a day earlier if family members come to pick them up. Currently, most offenders choose to leave on Sunday with relatives, he said.

The Work Ethic Camp would experience only minor changes at first. Inmates at state correctional facilities are paid between $1.21-3.40 per day which would extend to work camp offenders if the bill is approved, he said. This gives offenders a nest egg of about $200 upon completion of the program they can use toward a down payment at a halfway house or another residence.

No additional staff is anticipated at this time, he said. But if the early-release parole program is successful, this could change in the future with additional staff and expansion of the facility.

LB83 has the support of the governor, the state parole board and Robert Houston, Director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services.

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