State Looking to Counties to Decrease Prison Overcrowding - KHGI-TV/KWNB-TV/KHGI-CD-Grand Island, Kearney, Hastings

State Looking to Counties to Decrease Prison Overcrowding

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More than 5,000 inmates are housed in Nebraska's prisons.

At the state's prisoner intake, the Diagnostic & Evaluation Center, it's getting crowded.

"Capacity is 160 and we sleep approximately 480 people there," said Nebraska Department of Corrections Deputy Director of Programs and Community Services Larry Wayne. "There are not enough beds. We have sled beds that we put out at night on the floor and inmates sleep there."

They could lay their head at the Hall County Jail soon.

State lawmakers have given the Department of Corrections the budget to house 150 inmates in county jails for up to a year. Hall could be the first host.

"We could, quite frankly, use some cash," said Fred Ruiz, director of Hall County Corrections. "We don't have a lot of revenue streams. This is a good opportunity; and in addition, I think we would provide some services to the inmates as well."

Correction officials outlined the deal with the Hall County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

The state would cover medical, dental, prescriptions and transportation for inmates, plus a daily rate.

"What we see as additional costs to us will be our medical and our food provided," said Ruiz.

In the end though, the county should come out ahead, which hasn't always happened when state funding is involved.

"Sometimes that funding ran out and we were less than pleased with the return of funds," said Ruiz.

"We aren't going to house anyone in any jail for any time where the county won't be reimbursed," said Wayne.

Twenty to 30 inmates could be in Grand Island as soon as June 15. Wayne said they will all be non-violent offenders -- that means no one convicted of robbery, murder or sexual assault.

"Even if those inmates are near the end of their sentence and we consider them low risk, we won't be sending them to Hall County," said Wayne.

If those first inmates work out, Hall County could be housing 50 to 100 prisoners by mid-July.

Wayne said he is talking with three other counties as well, but wouldn't reveal which ones. He did say that some are also in central Nebraska.

It's up to state lawmakers to decide if the program continues or expands to more counties.

Wayne has high hopes that it will decrease overcrowding in prisons, which are now at over 150 percent capacity.

The Board of Supervisors should vote on the issue in a few weeks after county and state attorneys work out a more detailed contract.
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