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Critics Challenge Proposal to Build New Private Prison

Nebraska's prison population is currently at nearly 160% of capacity, making the state the second most overcrowded in the nation. (California Department of Corrections/Wikimedia Commons)
Nebraska's prison population is currently at nearly 160% of capacity, making the state the second most overcrowded in the nation. (California Department of Corrections/Wikimedia Commons)
February 24, 2020

LINCOLN, Neb. -- The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services has announced that it will consider plans to build a 1,600 bed private prison to help ease currently overcrowded conditions and address projected growth in prison populations.

Sam Petto, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, says the state already has invested heavily to keep up with the challenges created by a system that, on average, sees nearly 5,600 people incarcerated every day.

"We think a lot smarter approach -- instead of trying to build more prison beds to keep up with that -- is to invest in diversion programs, to take a hard look at sentencing, and to find other ways to keep people out of the system," he states.

Petto points to proven alternatives to incarceration, including drug courts that funnel non-violent offenders into treatment, and expanding parole options for people caught up in the war on drugs who already are serving sentences.

The Department of Correctional Services is considering a public-private partnership that would allow the state to lease a new prison, to avoid up-front construction costs.

Petto says Nebraska already is struggling to adequately staff current facilities, and warns that working with a for-profit company would open the door for increased human rights violations documented in other states.

Petto argues that a lease-to-own strategy would not benefit taxpayers in the long run.

"I just think it's extremely misguided to say just because we're not paying for something right on the front end, in whole, in sum total, doesn't mean that taxpayers aren't on the hook," he stresses.

Petto says funding for corrections in Nebraska increased by 290% between 1985 and 2016, outpacing spending in other areas, including higher education, which grew by just 57% over the same time period.

Nebraska's prison population is currently at nearly 160% of capacity, making the state the second most overcrowded in the nation.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NE