Corrections Business as Usual: Part II


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Corrections Business As Usual, Part II

The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) gave a number of excuses to the Judiciary Committee to try and keep the Lincoln Correctional Center (LCC) open. The majority's report addresses four specific DCS arguments: (1) the effects on parole; (2) LCC shared services with the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center (D&E); (3) LCC houses special populations; and (4) the sex offender treatment program. The Committee's majority seems to have blindly accepted DCS's claims rather than researching them. Let's look at each of the four claims separately.

Parole

The majority's report states that the closing of LCC would require not just the initial 500 paroles but an additional 500 paroles every year thereafter. They claim the Parole Administration cannot handle all these people on parole. These numbers come from DCS's estimates. As we have seen in Part I, DCS's estimates are simpleminded and suspect. The majority report does not even consider what the impact would be of turning LCC over to the Community Corrections Council for expanding work detail and work release. Does the Judiciary Committee even know how many inmates are eligible and on a waiting list to get to work detail and work release? Probably not because the Committee failed to look at the classification system. Does the Committee know how many inmates could be at work detail or work release if the classification system worked properly? Once again, probably not because they didn't look into that. How many of those 500 "extra" paroles would be inmates that ought to be at work detail and work release right now? The Committee's majority doesn't know and it seems they didn't want to.

Shared Services

The majority decided that LCC provided needed services for D&E; Food Service, Maintenance, Laundry, etc. The majority report found that closing LCC would impact essential services for D&E. Once again, the majority report does not consider that there would be no impact if LCC were populated with work detail and work release inmates. Work detail inmates would fill the jobs of working in the kitchen, the laundry, and doing maintenance for D&E as inmates do now in other DCS facilities.

The majority report states that the DCS Pharmacy and the Federal Surplus operation's initial response staff is provided by LCC. Are inmates working in the DCS Pharmacy? What kind of security is that? What types of inmates work in the Federal Surplus operation? If any, they would be inmates with Community Corrections status anyway. If the Community Corrections Council ran LCC then they would provide that "initial response." The Community Corrections Council would likely hire the old LCC staff or contract for their services from DCS. (Let the power-seeking bureaucrats argue over that organization.) Either way this new organization would not change the ability to respond to an incident at Federal Surplus or the Pharmacy. When was the last time that a response team from LCC went to Federal Surplus that was not a drill? Why didn't the majority ask these questions?

Special Populations at LCC

DCS claimed that LCC has special populations that need to be segregated from general population. The Committee's majority should have looked into DCS's operations.

The Committee's majority thinks segregation is special to LCC. LCC has 76 segregation beds, while Tecumseh (TSCI) has a Special Management Unit (SMU) with 196 beds for segregation purposes. Every other DCS facility but TSCI is well over 100% capacity. TSCI is only filled to 85% capacity because TSCI has segregation beds sitting empty. Why can't DCS tell the inmates who have the most time to do in segregation or are always getting into trouble that they will spend their time in TSCI's SMU? That problem would be solved and TSCI's segregation capacity could be fully used. In fact, had the Committee's majority investigated, they would have found that DCS is now doing just that. In the December issue of the Nebraska Criminal Justice Review, TSCI Warden Fred Britten admits this is already being done.

LCC also has many beds for mental health needs and protective custody. NSP has half a housing unit reserved for protective custody; fill the other half if necessary. Inmates with mental health needs are housed here at NSP too. The alternative is to take all the inmates that have been classified for community custody and "remove" them from the facilities they are currently in. There would be sufficient room for all the special populations that are currently at LCC.

They can be kept separate. NSP has housed the Residential Treatment Center (RTC) since the Nebraska Correctional Treatment Center (NCTC) was closed. Those drug offender inmates are not allowed to mix or have contact with NSP inmates. There is a fence between those inmates and NSP inmates. If they can be kept separate so can the special populations from LCC. Those RTC inmates are moved about NSP in a safe and secure manner, you don't need a "security spine" to accomplish that.

Sex Offender Treatment

The Committee's majority found that there were only 48 beds at LCC for the inpatient sex offender program (p.11 of the Report). The Committee should have looked deeper than what they were told. By statute and DCS Administrative Regulation (AR) 115.23 it is DCS policy to provide "special needs" programs at each facility. Sex offender inpatient treatment is considered "special needs" in AR 115.12. So why do they need LCC for the sex offender program if that program is available at every DCS facility? The reality is that the LCC inpatient sex offender program is the only inpatient sex offender program. DCS does not have such a program in every facility as they are supposed to.

This has allowed DCS to create another overcrowding bottleneck. Look at what Dr. Suzanne Bohn, who runs Mental Health Services for DCS, told the Nebraska Criminal Justice Review in its March 2002 issue. There were 634 sex offenders in Nebraska prisons at that time. Dr. Bohn said there were only 44 beds in the sex offender program at that time. She said it takes two years to get through the program (some take as long as eight years). That means DCS currently has a backlog of 24 years worth of sex offenders. Even if they only took six months for that program the backlog would be six years. And that assumes that sex offenders aren't coming into the pipeline faster than they get out. Hah! So DCS has built a "knob" with which they can control overcrowding by controlling the availability of sex offender treatment.

That is not the only bottleneck for sex offenders. Dr. Bohn talks about inmates "requesting" treatment programs, but these programs are required for most inmates. Even if DCS does not require them the Parole Board does. There are inmates that DCS staff has determined do not need the level of treatment in the inpatient program. However, the Parole Board routinely ignores these recommendations and still requires sex offenders to go through the inpatient program to get parole. Since only a small portion of the 634 inmates can get into (let alone, through) the inpatient program, most sex offenders have to "jam" their sentences rather than be paroled. Not only does this mean that sex offenders "jam" their sentences without treatment (leading to the civil commitment program), this adds to the very overcrowding crisis that led the Committee's majority to decide to fund LCC as a DCS facility.

For these reasons the Committee's majority thinks the Legislature should continue to give DCS the money to make policies that create the overcrowding that requires DCS to keep its facilities operating beyond their capacity. Is it any wonder DCS will need another prison in a few years?

The Alternative

The alternative that was presented to the Judiciary Committee was to turn LCC over to the Community Corrections Council and fill it with inmates who should be at work detail or work release, and new offenders diverted from the traditional prison setting. This plan solved most of the problems the Judiciary Committee found for keeping LCC "open." This alternative provides the labor force for services needed at D&E. It doesn't overcrowd the remaining parts of DCS's prison system because the first bunch of people to fill LCC will come out of that very prison system. Most of the people who would end up there are already on a list to be moved to a community corrections (work detail or work release) facility right now. The only reason they can't get there is because DCS doesn't have the capacity in its community corrections facilities. The result is the same as DCS controlling the capacity of its sex offender programs; controlled overcrowding for DCS's benefit. That's business as usual at DCS.


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