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Editors Note: If you have a question about the Nebraska prison system that you would like to ask, please leave your question in a comment to the Editor. I will forward it to one or more of our authors and either send it back to you as e-mail or post it here for everyone, if appropriate.
1. Does the State provide free TV's and cable services to prisoners?
The only TV's provided are those in the Day rooms of each Housing Unit, and a limited number are provided for those inmates in the hospital. Prisoners are allowed to purchase TV's, (Limited to a 13" screen and limit on purchase price) radios and grooming/hygiene needs out of their own spending accounts from the institutional canteen, and outside approved vendors. Satellite programming is provided via a fixed satellite dish which was paid for out of inmate welfare funds. Money is put into this fund by profits from soda pop sales to prisoners and a 5% surcharge on all catalog orders placed by prisoners for such things as TV's radios and personal clothing.
2. Does the State provide for all the needs of the prisoners in it's custody?
The State provides only the most essential needs for prisoners. They spend about $2.62 per prisoner per day for three meals that are prepared by prisoners under some staff supervision. The only clothing provided by the state is three sets of khaki work clothes and one pair of work boots, along with underclothing. Kitchen whites are provided for kitchen workers and on the yard gang prisoners are provided long underwear. Each prisoner is provided two blankets and one set of sheets. All personal clothing, such as blue jeans, tennis shoes, dress shirts, long johns, etc., must be purchased from outside vendors, with a 5% surcharge being paid to the canteen for handling the order. Also each prisoner, unless classified as indigent, must purchase at their own expense, all postage, cosmetics and supplemental food needed from the canteen.
3. Are prisoners paid by the state?
With the exception of prisoners in Segregation units and on death row, each prisoner has an assigned job, if they are physically able to work. Institutional jobs like food-preparation, janitorial or clerk positions range in pay from $1.21 per day to $3.78/per day. Some prisoners also work for Cornhusker State Industries furniture shop, plate shop, soap factory or Braille shop with wages from .38/hour to $1.08 per hour, plus a quarterly bonus that can range from $5.00 to $575.00, depending on the profit made by the individual shop during that quarter, and is based on attendance at work in order to be eligible. Approximately 70 more prisoners at the state penitentiary work for the privately owned company Tek Industries of Fremont NE. Prisoner employees of Tek are paid a beginning wage of $5.15 per hour for making razor sharp cutting dies for cutting paper, leather and cloth. Tek employees, as with all private venture prison employees actually only receive $1.50 per hour on their spending accounts. The balance of what they earn is paid out to room and board, mandatory savings and release of fund accounts, and into the state Victim compensation fund.
4. What are the punishments for rule infractions by prisoners?
Misconduct reports can be written by any DCS (Dept of Corrections) employee. Guilt or innocence and the resulting punishment is decided by either of two separate Disciplinary Committees, depending on the severity of the charges outlined on the misconduct report. Less severe offenses are heard by the Housing Unit Committee which is made up of staff who work in the Housing Unit in which the accused prisoner lives. The other committee is the Inmate Disciplinary Committee which hears the more serious offenses and is made up of staff above the rank of Sergeant. Punishments range from a verbal reprimand to confinement in a Segregation Unit, commonly called the Hole, and/or loss of Good Time or suspension of privileges like visiting or phone use.
5. What is Good Time?
Good Time is the number of years and/or days taken off a person's sentence as prescribed by Nebraska law as a means of rewarding a person's good behavior and adhering to prison rules, and for some more recently sentenced prisoners, for participation in treatment programs like drug abuse counseling and mental health group sessions. Good Time can be and often is taken away by the Inmate Disciplinary Committee for many types of rule infractions, including smoking inside a cell or building all the way to assault or attempted escape, or as in a recent incident, for killing another prisoner. The taking of Good Time results in a person having to wait longer to be either eligible for parole consideration, or for mandatory release after having served the maximum term prescribed by law. Good Time law for anyone sentenced after 1992 gives that person six-months off their sentence for every six-months of sentence to be served. This is often called "day-for-day-good-time". In Nebraska law this new good time is called "earned Good Time", because in order to receive it a person is suppose to participate in a so-called personalized plan, which may include mental health, drug treatment, or simply maintaining a job. For example, a person who is sentenced to 1 to 3 years would be eligible for parole in six-months time from the day their sentence began. Good Time is also awarded toward a prisoners mandatory release date. As in the previous example of a 1 to 3 year sentence, if no Good Time is taken away from that person, then that person would be mandatorally released from prison in 1 1/2 years. Being released at the maximum sentence, minus Good Time awards is called "jamming out", and that date of mandatory release is called a "jam date". A person who jams out is released from custody without parole, or without any restrictions (Unless they are a sex offender and then they must register each year with law enforcement in the community in which they live). In Nebraska there are three different sets of Good Time calculations used in determining parole dates and jam dates, depending on when a person was convicted. Good Time is also awarded in different amounts for those serving time in county jails, in which sentences for misdemeanors and felonies of less then one year of sentencing are usually served.
6. Are there any innocent people incarcerated in Nebraska's prisons?
The national organization, Families Against Mandatory Minimums in its Fall 1998 newsletter stated from their recent survey that there is from 10% to 12% of the current prison population nationwide that are innocent of the crime for which they are currently serving time. In Nebraska that would be at least 350 innocent people serving time in Nebraska prisons. With the advances in technology, such as DNA testing, the number could go even higher.
7. Are prisoners allowed to have conjugal or private family visits with spouses and/or children of their immediate family?
No! During the 1970's the Nebraska Legislature approved such types of visits to promote family unity while a spouse or parent is incarcerated, but DCS administration have never approved of this plan. In several interviews in Nebraska papers, DCS Director Harold Clarke has made it clear that as long as he is DCS Director such visits will never be deemed needed or feasible for Nebraska prisoners. Female prisoners at the Women's facility in York who are parents and who meet rigid institutional requirements, including such things as passing a parenting class, are allowed to have their children under a certain age visit with them overnight for two weekends a year, in a special part of the facility. Male prisoners who are parents are not allowed this same privilege.
8. Are all prisoners subject to random drug testing?
Yes! Anyone in the custody of the state, including those on parole are subject to drug testing at anytime. Testing is currently done by two different methods of urinalysis. Staff of the same sex are required to observe the prisoner being tested place their sample in a test cup, while the prisoner or parolee is nude and wearing required plastic gloves to prevent tampering with the sample. Funding for some of this testing comes from the federal anti-drug programs recently enacted by Congress. If a test proves to be positive, or if a prisoner refuses to give a sample, he or she will receive a misconduct report, which will likely result in loss of good time and restriction to one's cell for a period of time, not more then 30 days long. In addition, a positive drug test automatically results in a person being ineligible for parole for the next 12 months. A prisoner who tests positive will be placed on a more intensive drug testing schedule for the next 12 months. A parolee who tests positive will have their parole most likely revoked and returned to custody. On an average a prisoner will be tested randomly two to three times a year.