For the second time in 7 years, Nebraska state lawmakers have rejected the advice of the nation’s leading experts on how to cut prison overcrowding and reduce the cost of the state prison system.
LB 920 was intended to implement most of the recommendations coming from a lengthy study by the CJI, Crime and Justice Institute, but was killed Wednesday when supporters came up 7 votes short of ending a filibuster.
Debate stretched for 8 hours over 3 days on top of multiple hours of closed-door negotiations in a failed attempt to reach a compromise. Judiciary Committee Steve Lathrop of Omaha led the push for the bill and called its defeat his biggest disappointment in 12 years as a state senator.
In 2015, CJI helped Nebraska develop reforms projected to cut the state’s prison population by 1,000 but opposition by prosecutors led to most of the reforms being rejected or watered down. As a result, the state’s prison system is the most-overcrowded in the country.
A new study from CJI was commissioned last year and LB 920 had 21 recommendations from it. CJI officials say they;ve done similar studies for 37 states and only Nebraska and Kentucky have rejected them. Senator Lathrop says the result is that “we’re going to be known as the state that won’t listen.”
Lathrop and other supporters argued the recommendations are “smart on crime” strategies that have helped dozens of states reduce spending on corrections while helping reduce crime.
Opponents said 4 of the provisions were soft on crime and threatened public safety: dropping some drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, reduced penalties for “smash and grab burglaries,” removing mandatory minimums in some drug cases, and requiring judges to justify handing down consecutive sentences.
Each side accused the other of failing to negotiate in good faith to find a compromise on their areas where they disagreed.