NCVC has worked diligently with the Council on State Government's (CSG) Justice Reinvestment Staff to bring awareness to victims' issues in Nebraska and have that be part of discussions at meetings convened by our State's Justice Reinvestment Working Group.
Restitution is very rarely ordered in Nebraska and when it is ordered, it is most frequently probationers ordered to pay as a condition of their sentence. With no "teeth" to the collection of restitution, only a fraction of all orders entered are ever collected. This leaves crime victims footing the bill for their very own victimization. NCVC takes issue with this and worked with CSG staff to raise awareness among the Justice Reinvestment Work Group. The victim restitution language included in LB605, the legislation containing the justice reinvestment framework, is the result of that work and the information below is taken from correspondence between CSG and the NCVC Board. We feel this is important news to share with you.
CSG staff shared NCVC's op-ed piece recently published in Omaha.com's Public Pulse with the Governor’s office, Attorney General’s office, Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) Director Scott Frakes, and Corey Steel, State Court Administrator. Director Frakes was especially pleased to see the op-ed piece was published. He told CSG staff he wanted to implement the victim restitution policy effectively and listen to the voices of victims and their advocates. Marc Pelka, State Initiatives Program Director with CSG, explained NCVC’s desire to be part of NDCS's rulemaking process involving the institutional collections of restitution. NCVC was informed that CSG staff have been very encouraged by Director Frakes' interest in doing right by victims and their advocates.
From CSG's discussions with NDCS, the policy involving collections of restitution among people in prison who owe is developed correctly. First, victims no longer need to obtain a second court order for NDCS to collect restitution from inmates who owe. Second, the “inmate wages” term in the bill refers to all funds in inmate accounts: deposits, credits, and wages. Third, the State Court Administrator and the NDCS Director are required to develop rules and regulations regarding collections. Director Frakes’ eagerness to engage victims and their advocates bodes well for effective implementation. This is excellent news for victims of crime who have been awarded restitution and the first step in holding offenders financially responsible for the crimes they commit.
Additionally, over the last couple weeks CSG staff have been in touch with staff in the Governor’s and Attorney General’s offices regarding LB 605. As you may have heard in the media, a sentencing policy was amended to the bill after the February 20, 2015 public hearing. That policy would require minimum sentences to be no longer than one-third of the maximum sentence imposed. The intent was to provide a longer period for parole consideration, and thus a lower likelihood that the individual would jam-out his or her sentence to no supervision after release from prison. That amendment raised significant opposition from the Governor, Attorney General, and law enforcement.
CSG staff worked with the Governor’s and Attorney General’s offices, as well as Senators McCoy and Mello, to clarify that this policy was not part of the justice reinvestment process. CSG could not estimate the impact of the policy, and the working group could not reach consensus on this policy, so the report CSG issued on the matter was silent. Marc Pelka and the rest of the CSG team learned last week that the amended policy was removed from the bill. It is CSG's understanding there is now support among stakeholders for the legislation to proceed.
NCVC will update you on this important legislation as it moves forward in the legislative process.