ACLU Report Shows Legislature at Criminal Justice Crossroads

(KFOR NEWS  December 14, 2021)    A new ACLU of Nebraska report says state senators are well positioned to address Nebraska’s mass incarceration challenges with new state policy and without new construction.

The civil rights organization released “The Statehouse-to-Prison Pipeline” today. The report examines the Nebraska Legislature’s criminal justice legislation over the last five years and offers recommendations on next steps for state policymakers and key stakeholders like prosecutors.


The report describes mixed results, with state senators creating new crimes and broadening existing crimes even as they also adopted smart reform measures. In contrast to a similar ACLU analysis from 2017, the new report says state senators have recently taken a more tempered approach, which could help the Nebraska Legislature address prison overcrowding and understaffing challenges without the $230 million prison Gov. Ricketts is proposing.

ACLU of Nebraska Government Liaison Spike Eickholt said the report highlights opportunities for state senators to lead.

“We know from polling that most Nebraskans believe we’re already spending too much money locking up people who should instead be receiving mental health and addiction services,” Eickholt said. “A new prison just commits us to more taxpayer costs and stark racial disparities when we could get better results and achieve our shared public safety goals with reform. There’s a real opportunity for meaningful action in 2022 and the ACLU is committed to being a good partner in that effort.”

The report recommends state senators refrain from introducing bills that create new crimes or increase penalties; adopt sentencing reform; make investments in alternatives to incarceration and reentry services such as mental health and behavioral health treatment; and adopt innovations in probation and parole. It also encourages buy-in with the ongoing, in-depth analysis of the state’s prison trends that the Crime and Justice Institute is leading.

The new prison proposal has shifted repeatedly since it was first introduced in 2020. The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (NDCS) announced the project as a new prison existing alongside current facilities. It then became a ‘replacement’ for the Nebraska State Penitentiary (NSP) in a plan that involved keeping the penitentiary open with fewer staff. According to Nebraska Public Media’s recent reporting on the subject, NDCS Director Scott Frakes now says “the proposal is to close [NSP] and be done with it,” but adds “a lot of things could change.”

The ACLU of Nebraska advocates for a smart justice approach that would reduce the number of people imprisoned, address racial disparities and advance public safety. Learn more at

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