No On Amendment Four

© 2006 Last Updated: 11/01/2006

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The Lincoln Journal Star, the Omaha World Herald, and Fox News have all come out in favor of Amendment Four. They each cite Kermit Brashear or John Gales as saying there is a separation of powers problem with their ideas for the parole and probation system. They want the Probation Office and Parole Administration combined into one office to save on costs. All these people have read Machiavelli's, The Prince, because they are using deception to maintain authority.

It shouldn't shock anyone that they are being deceived in an election year. In this election year it is much safer for politicians to kick convicts than it is to kiss babies. Talk about negative campaigning! The fact is that there was a legislative bill in last year's legislative session (by Senator Synowiecki) that would have combined the Parole Administrator's Office and the Probation Office into one entity. That bill failed to pass because the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court told the Senators that the Probation Officers belong to the Judicial branch of government. The Constitution doesn't require that, of course, so even the majority of state senators have been deceived on this one.

The Probation Office is a creature of statutory creation. See, Neb.Rev.Stat. 29-2249. The Legislature created them and can destroy or move them around as they see fit. Why does the Court think it has the authority to tell the Legislature how to organize probation? The separation of powers we need is for the Legislators to stop being controlled by the lawyers.

Let's be honest, there are problems with the parole system. Nebraska's parole system has degraded into little more than a con game and the convicts are starting to figure that out. The coming legal battles will focus on "needs" versus "rights." The idea behind this amendment is more than just to change the game and keep the convicts confused. Instead of the Parole Board telling convicts what to do we will have judges do that. That is just substituting one authority figure with another, it doesn't address how the system determines "needs."

This isn't going to make the public safer. Most of the offenders in prison had or have problems dealing with authority figures in the first place. In prison offenders have to deal with the arbitrary power and authority of staff making some offenders worse than when they came in. Changing authority figures isn't likely to solve that problem.

The current Parole Board has no idea who can be released safely and who shouldn't be. See,Nebraska's Parole Lottery. The convicts know better who could be and shouldn't be released; we live with them everyday. All the Parole Board does is look at paperwork. Did the inmate do what staff told them to do, did he do what the Board told him to do; in other words, did they submit to the new authority figure in the convict's life. When was the last time the Parole Board asked an inmate what books they read in prison? The answer to that question can tell you more than what the Parole Board knows. The public is being deceived if they think the Parole Board knows what they are doing.

Let me show you three other deceptions the public hasn't seen through yet.

The prison system is overcrowded yet the Governor (in an election year) has refused to invoke the emergency overcrowding laws; or so we're told. More than a year ago the Parole Board would hold about 30 parole hearings a month at NSP. An average of between 14 and 18 inmates would be released on parole. That has changed in recent months. The Board still holds 30 hearings a month but closer to 28 inmates are now released. Without the Governor holding a press conference, the Parole Board is doing what the emergency overcrowding laws require.

Think the Nebraska Department of Corrections (DCS) knows what they are doing? They recently doubled the capacity of the work release center in Lincoln. The classification system had limited the number of inmates getting community custody status. In order to fill the new capacity, the inmate classification system was "updated." Suddenly there are plenty of inmates eligible for work release. If the old classification system accurately determined which inmates should not be eligible for work release, then who is getting to work release now? If the old classification system wasn't accurate then what makes you think the new classification system is? If the new system is more accurate then who made the previous logjam, inmates or just the classification paperwork? In simple terms, the DCS classification system is about the capacity of our prison system, it says little about the qualities (good or bad) of individual inmates.

You've also been told that Nebraska has "indeterminate" sentencing. No, we don't. Ask Don Stenberg or Jon Bruning whether the Parole Board can discharge an offender before the end of their maximum term (less goodtime). They will tell you, "No." Every offender remains in the custody of the State till the end of their maximum term. What is "indeterminate" about that? Maybe that is what coming to prison teaches you, to see through the illusions the public has been led to believe in.

The separation of powers provision was always seen as a shield against the expansion and abuse of government's powers. See, Fred Cahill Jr., The Separation of Powers in Nebraska, 18 Nebraska Law Bulletin #3, pp. 367-91 (1939). Voters should be cautioned and informed that they are being deceived on this Amendment. Otherwise, the majority of people voting for Amendment Four will be those who believed there were WMD's in Iraq. Vote "NO" on Amendment Four.

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