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Nebraska inmates can apply to serve sentences in home states

Posted at 11:50 AM, Nov 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-20 12:50:50-05

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The Nebraska corrections department has asked more than 600 inmates to say if they would prefer to serve their sentences in facilities in their home states, opening the door to transfers that could help ease overcrowding in Nebraska’s prisons.

The Correctional Services Department said in letters to the prisoners last week that the department understands that transfers to their home states would place some inmates closer to family and friends.

“Having strong, supportive relationships is important both during and after your incarceration,” chief of operations Diane Sabatka-Rine said in the letters. “So, we would like to offer you the opportunity to be considered for an interstate transfer to your home state at no cost to you.” Applications must be submitted by Dec. 31.

Transfers would be carried out through Nebraska state statutes and the Interstate Corrections Compact Act, said Laura Strimple, department chief of staff. She told the Lincoln Journal Star that it would be up to the receiving state to approve the transfer. If transfers are approved, housing costs will fall to those states.

Why would other states — many with overcrowding problems of their own — accept such transfers? Strimple said the states must make their own determinations, based on their system requirements and policies.

In neighboring Iowa, the prison system was at 121% of capacity on Wednesday and included 253 inmates who list Nebraska as their birth state. Iowa prisons spokesman Cord Overton told The Associated Press that transfers often are done as swaps: an Iowa prisoner traded for another state’s prisoner at the time or in the future.

Iowa doesn’t have a program encouraging prisoners to request transfers to home states, Overton said.

He said his department would review each request from Nebraska inmates individually “to decide whether the transfer would be in the best interest of the requesting inmate, among other considerations such as capacity and security concerns.”

Nebraska state Sen. Steve Lathrop, chairman of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said the letters show the department is trying resolve overcrowding, but that they also show Nebraska prisons are at a crisis level.

“I certainly don’t have any objection to it, or any reason to have a problem with it,” Lathrop said.

A 2015 Nebraska law mandates that the governor must declare a prison overcrowding emergency if the population isn’t below 140% on July 1, 2020. The population has hovered at about 160% of design capacity recently, and last month Corrections Director Scott Frakes reported that the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln was at 190% capacity. Frakes said in Januarythat he doubted the department will meet that deadline.