Give the Nebraska prison system a hand for joining the modern age. The state is no longer using pen and paper to tally the criminal sentences of Nebraska’s prisoners.
Last weekend’s rollout of a computer system that calculates, adjusts and double-checks the sentences of state prisoners should close an embarrassing chapter for the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services.
The new system is expected to prevent another systemic failure like the one The World-Herald discovered in 2014. The newspaper’s analysis found that Corrections had miscalculated prison sentences for nearly two decades, which led to more than 171 inmates being released early, including 51 who committed new crimes.
Some mistakenly released inmates were rebuilding their lives and keeping out of trouble when they were rounded up and sent back to complete their sentences, disrupting their jobs and lives.
The state later identified more mistakes, related to miscalculations of good time and mandatory minimum sentences.
“We’ve created a system that shouldn’t allow that to happen,” second-year Corrections Director Scott Frakes told The World-Herald.
Implementing the new computer and software system is expected to be costly — the state allocated $395,000. But the new system will be more accurate, factoring in the impact of good-time laws, new legislation and Nebraska Supreme Court rulings that affect sentencings. It also will calculate sentences based on 365-day years instead of the old method, based on a 360-day year.
The prison system plans to double-check the release dates and parole eligibility dates of all 5,300 inmates. Many sentences will need to be tweaked.
This combination of modern technology and human review should have been in place years ago — most governments and businesses have long used computers for complicated work.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. Governors and prison leaders fostered most of these problems by looking the other way. The Legislature’s frequent revisions to criminal sentences made for a convoluted stew. And lawmakers waited too long to assert themselves by establishing oversight tools such as a prisons inspector general.
Still, this marks an important step in state efforts to turning around the Corrections Department’s listing ship.