LINCOLN — The furloughed prisoner killed two weeks ago by Omaha police officers would not have been on the streets under a change now planned to a program that temporarily releases hundreds of Nebraska inmates.
Starting Nov. 1, prisoners must be within one year of their likely parole date before they can take an overnight furlough, said Bob Houston, director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services.
Under current procedure, inmates can earn overnight releases within three years of the end of their prison terms.
Jermaine Lucas, tentatively scheduled for release in 2014, was on a two-day furlough to spend time at his mother's home earlier this month when he was killed. Two Omaha police officers shot him Sept. 16 near 30th and Pratt Streets after the 29-year-old gang member reached for a gun that had fallen from his waistband.
The shooting of Lucas prompted the change to the state program, and another change will most likely lead to a reduction in the average length of furloughs, Houston said.
“We don't hesitate to change if we know we're going to be able to protect the public better,” he said.
Meanwhile, Omaha State Sen. Brad Ashford, chairman of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee, has scheduled a Dec. 6 meeting at the Capitol to determine whether a legislative change to the furlough program is in order. Houston and Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer are expected to share their views at the meeting.
While Ashford said furloughs are an important tool to help prisoners readjust to freedom and straighten out their lives, he wants to see inmates focus more on advancing their rehabilitation while on the outside.
“People on furlough have to be on a re-entry path,” he said. “They have to be meeting benchmarks. If they aren't doing that, they should not be on furlough.”
Lucas, locked up 11 times for offenses ranging from receiving stolen property to being a felon in possession of a firearm, was on his 11th furlough when he was killed.
Upon further review of the case, Houston said all procedures were followed with Lucas. His behavior was good, he had only one minor infraction and he met requirements intended to help him make a successful return to Omaha, Houston said.
Nonetheless, Houston has been meeting with Omaha police leaders and others to improve the system and lessen the chances for future incidents like the Lucas shooting.
In addition to changing the rules for overnight furloughs, the department also will more tightly restrict the way inmates use their time on furlough. Starting Nov. 1, inmates must devote their furlough time to finding work or housing, obtaining substance abuse treatment or mental health services, or building stronger family relationships.
Houston called them the five “stabilizing factors” that help an inmate avoid relapsing into criminal behavior when he leaves prison.
If an inmate cannot come up an itinerary devoted to a combination of the five factors, his furloughs will be shortened, Houston said. Caseworkers and other staff members in the state's parole offices will help inmates find services and stick to their furlough itineraries.
“Time on furlough is going to become more closely tied to the stabilizing factors.”
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