By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN, Neb. – The chairman of the state Republican Party is calling on Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop to step down from his seat on a special investigatory committee looking into state prison problems.
Sen. Steve Lathrop
J.L. Spray says Lathrop should resign his position as chairman of the Legislature’s Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative Committee due to “his clearly biased and prejudicial comments” on Friday.
Lathrop and another senator, Bob Krist, held a press conference Friday to refute Congressman Lee Terry’s allegation that his Democratic opponent, Sen. Brad Ashford, bears some blame for the prison release of Nikko Jenkins, who went on to kill four Omahans within 10 days.
Ashford is chairman of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, and Terry says he should have made reforms, such as by changing the “good time” law so prisoners don’t automatically get good time, but instead must earn it. Prisoners basically get their sentences cut in half the day they walk in the door of prison, but the state can dock their good time if they misbehave. However, that punishment is rarely meted out.
Lathrop – who is in a position to understand the issue well, with his staff sifting through thousands of public documents about the case – said Friday he was disappointed in Terry. He said the blame lies with the state corrections department, which is run by Gov. Dave Heineman’s administration. Lathrop is a Democrat; Krist, Terry and Heineman are Republicans. Spray did not call on Krist to resign from the committee, even though he made similar comments Friday.
Spray says Lathrop’s comments make it clear he’s “already decided the outcome of his committee’s investigation” by blaming the corrections department for Jenkins’ killing rampage.
“It is appalling, shocking and totally inappropriate behavior on the part of Senator Lathrop to clearly abuse his legislative seat to conduct a political witch hunt and grossly misuse his elected position to try and help an extremely unqualified candidate, Brad Ashford, and influence an election,” Spray said in a press release.
Spray says Lathrop is trying to shift the blame from himself and Ashford “to hide Ashford’s responsibility in killing the repeal of good time legislation.”
“As chair, Lathrop is supposed to be impartial and open-minded when chairing an investigation and his actions clearly show that he is not,” Spray said. “His Friday comments show his bias and prejudice.”
While Ashford has opposed changing the good time law — saying it’s a tool prisons use to control population – testimony before the prisons committee indicated good time would have done little more than delay Jenkins’ release. The panel’s investigation has focused on why prison officials didn’t commit Jenkins’ to the state psychiatric hospital when he repeatedly asked to be committed and threatened to kill people if released.
Jenkins spent most of his adult life in prison before being released in July 201 after losing only a year-and-a-half of “good time” even though he assaulted a guard while on furlough, helped incite a prison riot, attacked inmates and participated in gang activities while in prison.
Spray says Lathrop and Ashford are falsely claiming the corrections department can take away prisoners’ good time without a change in the law.
Lathrop was not immediately available for comment.
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