By Paul Hammel
LINCOLN — Here’s a record Nebraska leaders didn’t want to set: a new high for prison overcrowding.
On Monday, state prisons held 5,515 inmates, the most in history and a surprising landmark in light of several efforts to reduce overcrowding.
“I hope it’s an anomaly,” State Corrections Director Scott Frakes told a panel of state lawmakers.
It means that state prisons are holding 2,140 more inmates than they were designed to handle — about two prisons’ worth — and are at 163 percent of capacity, the second-worst overcrowding in the nation. It also casts even more doubt on whether the state can fend off a civil rights lawsuit from the ACLU of Nebraska and meet a July 2020 deadline to reduce overcrowding to 140 percent of capacity or else start paroling hundreds of prisoners.
Frakes told the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee that there’s little his department can do when the number of inmates entering his prisons far exceeds those leaving on parole or upon completing criminal sentences.