- Associated Press - Monday, January 13, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning said Monday that they will propose legislation that would eliminate automatic “good time” credit for violent offenders in the state’s prison system.

The Republican officials said during a news conference at the Capitol that they will submit the measure this year for consideration by the Legislature.

If passed, the law would require inmates convicted of murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, or one of at least seven other major crimes to maintain good behavior while incarcerated and to participate in rehabilitation programs. The bill is partly inspired by the case of Nikko Jenkins, who is accused of killing four people in the Omaha area after being released from prison.

“If the most violent offenders have to earn a sentence reduction, we’re going to be better off as a state,” Heineman said.

Monday’s announcement followed a scathing report by the state ombudsman’s office that criticized the Department of Correctional Services for failing to heed several warning signs that Jenkins still posed a danger to society. Jenkins told corrections officials that he would kill people if released and said he was willing to undergo mental health treatment, but he was instead referred to a prison social worker.

Despite the report, Heineman insisted Monday that Jenkins alone deserves blame for the killings.

Nikko Jenkins killed those four individuals - not the courts, not the Omaha police department, not the Department of Correctional Services and not the people of Nebraska,” Heineman said.

The state’s good time system automatically gives inmate one day of credit for every day served, effectively cutting their prison sentences in half. Bruning said 31 other states have “earned time” requirements similar to what’s proposed.

“Inmates should actively earn sentence reductions,” he said. “This bill is the next step in our efforts to protect Nebraskans.”

Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, of Omaha, will sponsor the proposal.

“The current good time law has been in place for over two decades without serious challenge,” Lautenbaugh said. “Given the recent high-profile criminal events in the last year, I believe Nebraskans want and expect the Legislature to change the current good time law.”

Heineman approved a rule change last month that allows the state Department of Correctional Services to take away twice as much good time credit for misbehavior, including assaults on other prisoners or corrections officials. Under the new maximum penalty, inmates could lose up to two years’ worth of good time credit.

A group of lawmakers is pushing for prison reforms this year in the wake of the Jenkins case and overcrowding in the state prisons. Supporters have said the measure will likely include expanded treatment and probation options for offenders to allow their early release.

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