Lincoln Journal Star. September 28, 2023.
Editorial: Prison changes mark progress, can’t end there
Nebraska’s prison system has made progress over the past eight years in reducing the number of incarcerated persons in “restrictive housing,” better known as solitary confinement. But concern remains that two men who have spent years in solitary are set to leave prison without supervision in December.
That is one of the findings of a report released a week ago by the Inspector General of Corrections that also examined the prison system’s staffing issues and its compliance in conducting studies ordered by the Legislature.
The concerns over the upcoming unsupervised release of the two men were triggered, in part, by previous similar releases. In 2013, Nikko Jenkins left prison unsupervised after spending extensive periods of time in solitary confinement. He murdered four people within a month of release.
Two years ago, another man, who had spent nearly five years under restrictive housing, kept in his cell 23 hours a day, was released to the general population and community corrections with a transition plan but disengaged from it and committed suicide.
According to the report, solitary confinement harmed the man’s mental health, something critics say often happens with those held in restrictive housing for long periods of time.
In response to the 2021 death, Inspector General Doug Koebernick recommended state corrections officials revise their policy to ensure restrictive housing transition plans address the period after a person is released to a less-restrictive setting, especially for those who have been in solitary for six months or more.
The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services accepted the recommendation, with modifications, earlier this year and, according to a department spokeswoman, is taking steps to help the two men slated for December release adjust to the change, even though they will not have post-release supervision.
That departmental action and the reduction in the system’s use of solitary confinement are evidence of the value of and need for the Inspector General of Corrections, a legislatively established office that Attorney General Mike Hilgers has said in an opinion is unconstitutional and, therefore, should not be given access to the prison system and its records.
While the opinion does not carry the force of law, the executive branch officials in corrections and child welfare, which also has an inspector general, have had limited access to those offices since Aug. 14, restrictions that are legally questionable and, more importantly, a disservice to the people of the state and Legislature, who deserve better oversight of the troubled departments.
The report also found that, much like the restriction of access, the department has not concluded several studies ordered by the Legislature, including a major examination of how incarcerated persons are classified that would help determine the future of the system, which will see a new penitentiary be full on the day is opens if changes in classification, parole and incarceration rates are not made.
McCook Gazette. September 26, 2023.
Editorial: Nebraska not immune to hate-group growth
In an era where the United States faces a multitude of challenges, the rise of domestic terrorism and violent extremism stands as one of the most pressing concerns. The FBI’s startling revelation that it had 9,049 open domestic terrorism cases in fiscal 2021, marking a 357% increase since fiscal 2013, should serve as a resounding alarm bell for all Americans. In this unsettling landscape, Nebraska has found itself grappling with an increasingly perilous issue: the proliferation of hate groups within its borders.
At the heart of this threat lies a toxic cocktail of extremist ideologies, from racism and homophobia to ethnocentrism and anti-government sentiments. These ideologies, sown by extremist hate groups, have led to some of the most violent incidents of domestic terrorism witnessed in the United States in recent years. It is imperative that we recognize the gravity of this situation and take proactive measures to safeguard our communities.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy group, there were a staggering 1,224 active hate and anti-government groups in the United States in 2022. These organizations, with their distinct chapters and affiliations, encompass a wide range of extremist ideologies. Among them are well-known names such as the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Ku Klux Klan, and ACT for America. While their specific beliefs may vary, they are all united by a shared mission to undermine government authority and propagate hatred against individuals of particular races, religions, ethnicities, or sexual orientations.
What’s even more concerning is that Nebraska has not escaped this disturbing trend. The SPLC identified 12 active hate and anti-government groups in Nebraska in 2022, translating to approximately 6.1 extremist groups for every million people. This ranks Nebraska as the 10th highest state in terms of concentration, a deeply unsettling statistic. Furthermore, the number of hate groups operating in the state surged by a staggering 33.3% since 2021, painting a grim picture of a growing problem.
Among these active extremist groups in Nebraska are four anti-government organizations and three neo-Nazi groups, each with its own agenda but all sharing a dangerous propensity for violence. These groups threaten not only the safety of our communities but also the very principles of inclusivity, diversity and democracy that Nebraskans hold dear.
To effectively combat this menace, Nebraska must take decisive action. The battle against hate groups and domestic terrorism is not just a law enforcement issue but a collective societal responsibility. Here are some crucial steps we must take:
Community Awareness: Nebraskans should educate themselves about the presence and activities of hate groups in their communities. Awareness is the first step toward prevention.
Reporting Suspicious Activity: Individuals should report any signs of extremist behavior to the appropriate authorities. This early intervention can prevent acts of violence.
Education and Outreach: Schools and community organizations should engage in efforts to educate youth about the dangers of extremism and the importance of tolerance.
Political Leadership: Elected officials have a role to play in denouncing hate and promoting policies that foster inclusivity and diversity.
Supporting Victims: Victims of hate crimes and harassment need robust support systems to help them recover and rebuild their lives.
Nebraska’s legacy as a land of strong communities, hardworking individuals, and open-hearted hospitality is at risk. By confronting the dangers of hate groups head-on, we can ensure that our state remains a beacon of hope and unity, rather than falling prey to the divisive forces of extremism. It’s time to stand up and protect the values we hold dear, forging a path forward toward a safer, more inclusive Nebraska.