Nebraska lawmakers presented prison reform blueprint

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By Tim McNicholas

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Updated: Thu, 28 Nov 2013 12:19:14 CST

The word capacity is used loosely in the state prison system.

Nebraska's nine prisons surpassed their standard capacity years ago.

In fact, they're now bridging on 150 percent capacity.

It's a problem so severe that a national team of experts—The Council of State Governments—has presented a blueprint on prison reform to the state free of charge.

Senator Les Seiler of the Judiciary Committee sees three potential solutions:

The first two? Reworking sentencing laws and helping criminals get back on their feet.

"The last is to build a prison," Seiler said. "I don't know anybody who wants to do that."

He added that a new prison would be full on the first day.

The Judiciary Committee is working with the Supreme Court to examine sentencing laws.

So where can an individual go after their jail time? One option is an alternative corrections facility like the one in downtown Hastings, where some of the residents say life is harder than it was in prison.

To live in the Western Alternative Corrections building, you have to be constantly searching for a job.

And if you're having trouble, you'll be put to work doing community service.

"We have seen the success of individuals and we've also seen individuals fail," Western Corrections President Marc Hultine said. "A lot of times it comes down to what support is in place."

Inmates spend years—sometimes decades—looking forward to life on the outside.

But when they finally get there, they're forced to cope with a difficult reality.

"Society may have changed," Hultine said. "Presidents may have changed. Job markets. The economy. Skills that you have had you may no longer be able to utilize."

If the Council of State Government's plan is approved...

A two to four year study could take place.