Work Ethic Camp most valuable in its original role

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The passage of LB83 to send prison parolees to the Work Ethic Camp was the right thing for the Legislature to do, considering the circumstances.

With the regular state prison system overflowing, and the WEC a little over half full, it was a no-brainer.

Under State Sen. John Synowiecki's bill, introduced at the behest of the Department of Correctional Services, inmates who are about to be paroled will spend their last days of incarceration at the McCook facility.

But it's a change in philosophy, and a partial admission of failure in implementing a good idea.

Since it opened in 2001, the 100-bed Work Ethic Camp has never been properly utilized, with the 72-person staff often outnumbering probationers, which has recently numbered 60 or fewer.

The problem is Nebraska judges, primarily in the eastern portion of the state, who have been slow to offer nonviolent offenders a chance to stay out of prison completely, by taking advantage of the WEC program.

How much better for the offenders to learn their lessons and gain living skills at the Work Ethic Camp, rather than being sent directly to prison, where the lessons learned are less likely to be the positive kind.

Instead, the camp will now be involved on the other end of the spectrum, attempting to undo behavior picked up in prison before inmates are sent back into society.

We're sure the facility and staff are up to the new role and will perform it well, as well as continuing the traditional WEC program.

But more effort should be made to persuade judges and other officials that the Work Ethic Camp is most valuable in its original role.

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