LINCOLN — Gov. Dave Heineman ramped up the Republican offensive Wednesday against State Sen. Brad Ashford, the Democratic congressional candidate, over the Legislature’s rejection of the governor’s “earned” good-time proposal.
The governor — in a rare midweek column distributed to news outlets Wednesday and at a press conference — blamed Ashford, who chairs the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, for “blocking” his proposal that violent criminals earn good-time reductions in their sentences.
“That’s a mistake,” Heineman wrote. “The safety of our citizens should be priority number one and that starts with violent criminals being required to earn any reduction in their sentence, rather than automatically receiving it.”
Under current state law, most inmates receive one day of good time for every day they serve in prison. If they misbehave, then good time can be taken away.
Heineman’s proposal, prompted by the murder spree by Nikko Jenkins shortly after his release from prison last year, would have required violent inmates to earn good time by participation in rehabilitation programs and by good conduct.
Ashford, asked for a response Wednesday, said the governor’s proposal was never prioritized, which is a key step in getting a bill debated and passed, and wasn’t offered as an amendment during floor debate. Ashford said the proposal also came a year after the Heineman administration had sought to increase the amount of good time given to inmates.
“The governor needs to kind of stop at the mirror on the way out of town,” Ashford said. “His (Corrections) Department has violated the law, mismanaged the department and certainly mismanaged the good-time law.”
The senator said he was referring to the miscalculation of hundreds of release dates by Corrections; the department’s failure to adequately address Jenkins’ mental health issues; and the department’s failure to take away at least nine months of good time from Jenkins.
The governor, during his press conference, said his department had made mistakes but said the good time that wasn’t taken away from Jenkins “pales in comparison” to the extra time he would have spent behind bars if good time was not awarded “automatically.”
If Jenkins’ good time had been removed, he would have spent another nine to 10.5 years in prison, Heineman said, adding that the Legislature had time to debate issues such as “novelty lighters” but not earned good time.
The governor’s criticism comes on the heels of a new set of political ads criticizing Ashford’s support of current good-time laws, criticism from state GOP Chairman J.L. Spray of Ashford and a legislative probe into the Jenkins case.
Heineman rejected the idea that his column and comments were political, saying he has been pushing for earned time for months, and now it has become an issue in the campaign.
Ashford said the latest attack was part of a coordinated GOP attempt to divert attention from the lack of accomplishments by incumbent U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., Ashford’s campaign opponent.
“He’s behind in the race, and he knows it,” Ashford said.
A World-Herald investigation last year found that good time was taken away in fewer than 5 percent of cases of inmate misbehavior and that Jenkins was among the inmates who had lost good time restored.
The governor’s good-time bill, Legislative Bill 832, failed to advance this spring from the Judiciary Committee. Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer, Mayor Jean Stothert and John Wells, head of the Omaha police union, were among the supporters of the bill.
State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha opposed the idea and pledged to do whatever necessary to kill it. He said a previous state law that required good time to be earned led to favoritism and discrimination and was a hollow promise because the state lacked programs to earn it.
Contact the writer: 402-473-9584, firstname.lastname@example.org