Chairperson Sen. Lathrop and Judiciary Committee Board Members
District #12, Room 1103 State Capitol
PO Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
January 26, 2022
Dear Senator Lathrop and Judiciary Committee Members,
My name is Jasmine L. Harris. I am the Director of Public Policy & Advocacy for RISE. I request that this testimony be included as part of the public hearing record that shows RISE is in support of LB920.
RISE is the largest nonprofit organization in Nebraska focused solely on habilitative programming in prisons and reentry support. At RISE, transformation starts pre-release and continues post-release. Our inside/out model bridges incarceration to the community and considers all the critical steps in that journey. We prepare and train people for each phase through intensive character development, employment readiness, job creation through entrepreneurship, family programming and case management. We transform people in the community by building awareness and empathy that leads to support and opportunity. These connections heal families, create employment pathways and lower recidivism. The mission of RISE is to break generational cycles of incarceration.
We want to thank Senator Lathrop for introducing this bill and also thank Senators McKinney and Geist, other members of the Working Group and the Criminal Justice Institute for taking on the task to evaluate the legal system in Nebraska and develop thoughtful policy recommendations. LB920 addresses many factors and I will focus my testimony on the sections that discuss changes with parole. We support all opportunities that allow more people to have the opportunity to parole. As we provide reentry case management services to individuals that graduate our program, we begin about 1 year prior to their release date working on their reentry plan, which includes housing, employment, medical and behavioral healthcare and even preparing them to appear in front of the parole board. We’d rather see this opportunity available to more of our participants because the more reentry preparation that is provided, the likelihood of success increases. We also attend parole hearings for
our participants in a supportive capacity, so we see firsthand the interactions with the board and hear the reasons for revocation. Creating a streamlined parole contract process and changing the guidelines to focus on more concrete objectives would help ensure more people who have shown great strides in improving their success upon reentry are prepared and granted parole.
We also support the process for creating geriatric parole. We have served many people with longer and life sentences that are aging within NDCS. About 5% of our program graduates are sixty (60) years old and older. Majority of them have longer sentences or life imprisonment. They bring so much knowledge and insight to our program and the younger participants. There should be a mechanism in place that allows for individuals who are elderly and have shown rehabilitation to reach the opportunity for parole.
We also support the creation of a pilot program for a technical parole violation residential housing program. As we walk alongside our participants on their reentry journey, we do see some of them return to NDCS. Not because of new law violations, but because of technical violations on parole. The CJI report stated that 40% of people who returned to NDCS were due to technical violations of parole. Many of these violations deal with mental and behavioral health. There is a definite shortage in mental and behavioral healthcare providers, as we see with long wait times for referrals for our participants. This pilot program will allow the opportunity for people to receive help and focus on building protective factors with the right programming versus going back to prison, therefore exacerbating the conditions that were used for the violation.
RISE supports LB920 and stands ready to serve people who are impacted by incarceration and help wherever we can. We ask that committee members consider the impact this bill has on decreasing incarceration in our state and vote this bill out of committee to General File.
Jasmine L. Harris, MPH, CHES
Director of Public Policy & Advocacy, RISE