Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog
The Omaha mayor’s race moves to Lincoln today with a possible showdown on crime.
When incumbent Democrat Jim Suttle testifies in favor of sentencing changes for violent criminals, he’ll be sitting across the table from one of his four mayoral opponents, State Sen. Brad Ashford, chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
A top official with the Nebraska Democratic Party, which is backing Suttle’s reelection, has criticized Ashford’s handling of the issue.
Suttle is backing a bill (LB379) which would restrict the use of so-called “good time” for gun crimes and other violent offenses.
According to a statement from the mayor’s office, the state “automatically” cuts prison sentences of most violent and repeat offenders “in at least half.”
Some critics of the current system argue that criminals sentenced, for example, from 10-20 years are—with good time—really serving 5-10 years.
But Ashford tells Nebraska Watchdog “that isn’t what’s happening” for most gun crimes committed in the past four years.
According to Ashford, in 2009 lawmakers enacted “mandatory minimum sentences” for crimes involving a gun. He says in the example of someone sent to prison for 10-20 years, for a violent gun crime, they would have to serve at least 10 years (the mandatory minimum).
The fight over “good time” escalated last fall when Omaha police shot and killed Jermaine Lucas, an inmate convicted of a gun crime, who was in town on a furlough.
According to police Lucas was going for a gun when officers opened fire.
Suttle is calling for major restrictions to the Department of Correction’s furlough program.
Ashford says he’s willing to listen to changes to the furlough system such as ordering inmates to wear ankle bracelets with GPS (satellite tracking).
But when it comes to sentencing Ashford has several concerns from rehabilitation to prison costs.
He argues that judges can already put violent criminals away for years with no chance of getting out early.
How? Ashford says if a judge sentences someone to 20-20 years in prison that’s a mandatory minimum of 20 years and the inmate has to serve 20 years.
At the same time though he discourages that practice insisting that inmates need to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
“If you elongate the sentence, in effect double it, that doesn’t make the public any safer, “said Ashford. “All its doing…is taking away any incentive from that particular inmate to…rehabilitate themselves.”
He also says keeping inmates longer will escalate the need for another prison putting other programs, such as education, at risk.
Ashford says he plans on calling for a legislative study of Nebraska’s sentencing laws.
Asked if he’s worried about being portrayed as soft on crime Ashford tells Nebraska Watchdog, “I’m not soft or hard on crime, what I want to do is keep the public safe.”
The hearing begins at 1:30.
Contact Joe Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org
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