- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska’s prisons director said Tuesday that he never told Gov. Dave Heineman about a program that allowed five inmates who were released too early to remain at home, even though they didn’t qualify for parole.

Corrections Director Mike Kenney also defended the temporary placement program in a letter to the legislative committee that’s investigating Nebraska’s prison problems, saying he alone created it while state officials rounded up hundreds of inmates who were released too early because their sentences were miscalculated.

Kenney’s letter came days after the committee voted unanimously to subpoena Heineman, a Republican, to testify at a prisons hearing on Oct. 29. Committee members are expected to ask Heineman about a variety of prison issues, including the legality of the program and other steps that prison officials took while accounting for the inmates.

The Nebraska Republican Party has said the hearing - scheduled less than a week before the Nov. 4 election - is a political stunt. Heineman is ineligible to run again due to term limits, but Democrats are looking to claim the governor’s office and additional seats in the Legislature. Sen. Steve Lathrop, the committee chairman and a Democrat, has noted that the committee is bipartisan and said the subpoena is part of an honest effort to find out what happened.

The temporary placement program allowed five inmates to spend the final few weeks of their sentences at home, as long as they wore monitoring bracelets and reported twice a week to a parole officer.

Some lawmakers have pointed to a July 31 memo by former prisons attorney George Green that argued that the program wasn’t authorized in state law. Green retired about two weeks later under threat of being fired for his role in the erroneous sentences.

Republican Attorney General Jon Bruning has disputed Green’s argument, casting him as an incompetent lawyer who failed to support his opinion with any specific laws or court rulings. Kenney says the program was legal, citing a law that lets the state corrections director designate places of confinement.

In a separate letter Tuesday and in a meeting with reporters last week, Heineman said Kenney never told him about the program. Bruning defended Kenney during the meeting with reporters, saying he was “the wrong guy” to blame for the prison fiasco and was doing his best to fix the situation.

Heineman said that, once he was aware of the program, he told Kenney that he should have contacted the attorney general’s office before proceeding.

State officials initially focused on 40 inmates who were released prematurely and still owed time when news of the miscalculated sentences surfaced. They decided to seek warrants for 20 whose corrected release dates were later than Jan. 1, 2015.

Kenney said the remaining 20 had less than six months left to serve, and had established stable lives in the community since their release. He said department officials worked to place those inmates on parole or in a furlough re-entry program, but five did not qualify for early-release programs, so they were put in the temporary placement program.

Kenney said he tried to explain the process when he testified before a legislative committee on Oct. 10.

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