Review of Nebraska prison sentences finds 1,242 with errors

By GRANT SCHULTE

Associated Press

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nearly one in four Nebraska prison inmates received sentences that were too short or too long because of errors in how their terms were calculated, the state corrections department said Tuesday.

So-called “good time” credit for good behavior was not properly applied for 1,242 of the 5,258 inmates who were eligible to participate, according an internal department review. The department said 518 of those affected were not awarded credits they had earned, while 724 received credits that they shouldn’t have.

Of the ones who received undue credit, 446 were released early and six committed a crime afterward, such as writing bad checks, domestic assault, negligent child abuse, driving under the influence, obstructing police, shoplifting and trespassing.

The department said the average amount of time awarded in error amounted to slightly less than 11 days per person.

Nebraska corrections director Scott Frakes ordered the review in June to clear up lingering problems with the department’s sentencing practices, which have haunted the prison system for years. The agency also has faced problems ranging from staff complaints about excessive workloads to a prison riot in May that left two inmates dead.

The Department of Correctional Services announced in 2014 that it released hundreds of prisoners too early because it failed to follow a state Supreme Court ruling that spelled out the correct way to calculate sentences.

Frakes, who was appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts in January, said the department now uses software to verify a prisoner’s sentence. The latest problem with the prison sentences was discovered after Frakes directed the department to automate the way prison terms are calculated in an attempt to prevent future mistakes.

Frakes said in June that the problem wasn’t caused by bad legal advice, but by staffers who believed they were calculating sentences properly based on their understanding of state law. He said he didn’t know why employees didn’t seek legal advice to clarify questions that arose among department staff.

“I recognize this has been a lengthy process,” Frakes said in a statement Tuesday. “It was important to me that we get it right to ensure good time is accurately applied, which is in keeping with our mission of protecting the public.”

The corrections department said everyone who is currently incarcerated or on parole has been notified of the changes made to his or her release date. Pending court cases will determine what action the state can take for those who have already been released.

Prison officials say they have fixed many of the problems with the old system for applying “good time” credit. For instance, the previous system did not determine whether inmates had served a full year incarcerated before earning the credit, which is required by state law. It also failed to check whether an inmate was serving a mandatory-minimum portion of their sentence, which would prevent them from qualifying for the credit.

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