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Pretrial Process: Justice Denied in Nebraska?

An estimated two out of three people in U.S. jails have not been convicted of the charges against them. (Pixabay)
An estimated two out of three people in U.S. jails have not been convicted of the charges against them. (Pixabay)
November 6, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska received an "F" for its pretrial justice system in a new report, but there are attempts to improve the process already in the works.

The pretrial phase is the period from the accused person's first contact with law enforcement to the resolution of charges through plea, trial or dismissal. And in its report, the Pretrial Justice Institute called current practices unfair, unsafe, a waste of money and a major contributor to mass incarceration.

Douglas County Commissioner Chris Rodgers, who also is chair of the institute, said many counties have been detaining people who have not been convicted of a crime and are no threat to public safety.

"A lot of times in the past, this decision has been made solely on money instead of an objective decision to measure a person's risk,” Rodgers said. “So you can have dangerous people that have money get out, and people that don't have money and a risk stay in."

Rodgers said a bill passed this year by Nebraska lawmakers should help turn things around. LB 259 goes into effect in 2019 and will allow people charged with a nonviolent offense to take advantage of options such as paying fines in installments or completing community service instead of being sent to jail until they can pay bail, fines or fees.

An estimated 2-in-3 people in U.S. jails have not been convicted of the charges against them.

Rodgers said counties should not have to wait another two years to reform their pretrial practices. He said he's been working with the Nebraska Supreme Court to see if they will join the Pretrial Justice Institute's "3DaysCount" campaign.

"Three days in jail can matter to somebody who's really making it day to day, and one day off work can trigger a whole other amount of circumstances,” he said. "And them sitting there because they can't make bail instead of being a safety risk can trigger a whole lot of things."

The report gave more than one-third of states a failing grade because of high rates of unnecessary pretrial detention. And the nation as a whole earned a "D."

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NE