Lawmakers to audit prison treatment programs

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. – A legislative audit committee voted Wednesday to audit the state prison system, given the recent spate of high-profile crimes that ex-cons are accused of committing.

AUDIT: A legislative committee voted Wednesday to conduct a preliminary audit into the state prison system.

The Performance Audit Committee – which conducts audits that are separate from the state auditor’s work – decided to do a pre-audit on the corrections’ department’s programming, access and rules and regulations governing “good time.” Good time basically cuts prisoners’ sentences in half the day they walk in the prison. But the program is being scrutinized in the wake of the Nikko Jenkins case, in which the Omaha man is accused of killing four Omahans within weeks of being released from prison last year.

A state ombudsman’s report recently criticized the prison system for failing to treat prisoners for violence and anger problems. Jenkins, for example, spent his last two years of imprisonment in solitary confinement because he was deemed too dangerous to mix with other prisoners. Jenkins, his family and Sen. Ernie Chambers say they asked prison officials to get Jenkins mental health treatment, but he received no rehabilitative or transition programming before being released, according to the report. Jenkins repeatedly told various prison employees he would kill people after getting out.

Omaha Sen. Heath Mello said the pre-audit – in which the Legislature’s auditing arm does initial research — would look at treatment programming – “or the lack thereof.”

The audit committee also voted to conduct a pre-audit on the Department of Health and Human Services‘ behavioral health eligibility and service delivery issues, with regard to children falling through the cracks in the system.

And if time permits, the committee may also take a look at HHS’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income people pay utility bills. Last year the state auditor found the state sent $7.7 million to residents who weren’t eligible to get the money directly and expressed concern that most of the payments to Nebraskans were never used to pay utility bills.

Mello said the committee may also look into state agencies continually extending contracts rather than putting them up for bid.

Martha Carter, legislative auditor, said she hopes to return to the committee with information in four to six weeks.

Contact Deena Winter at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org. Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog

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