Here in the Good Life, we must not take our public safety for granted. We’ve seen other states fail to support law enforcement and underinvest in their corrections. News stories with video footage of rampant theft and outbreaks of violence have become the unfortunate norm in cities like San Francisco and Washington, DC. Residents of these areas feel unsafe, and they’re fleeing to find a better place for their families. More than half of the San Francisco Bay area population plans to leave permanently in the next few years. Washington, DC lost over 20,000 residents from July 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021.
By contrast, cities in states that have demonstrated a commitment to public safety are booming. U.S. News and World Report lists nine Florida cities, and one in South Carolina, among the top 10 fasting-growing places in the United States. Here in Nebraska, the Omaha metro is on pace to surpass one million residents in 2024 after growing again last year.
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Nebraska is one of the best places in the nation to raise kids. A big reason why is the safety of our communities. As a state, we fully support the men and women in blue, and we vigorously prosecute crime. We must remain steadfast in our commitment to keeping our streets and neighborhoods safe.
My 2022 budget recommendation to the Legislature puts a priority on public safety. It requests funding for a much-needed replacement of our State Penitentiary. It expands the Law Enforcement Training Center in Grand Island to better equip the men and women on the frontlines of public safety. It also adds capacity at the State Crime Lab to better process evidence and bring justice to victims of crime.
The Nebraska State Penitentiary (NSP) is decaying. As I noted in my State of the State address, the NSP was originally built over 150 years ago. It suffers from poor security sightlines, outdated technology, inadequate support spaces for programming (as well as food service and recreation), and has a crumbling infrastructure. A modern Nebraska State Penitentiary will improve the quality of life for our inmates. Just last fall, over 1,300 inmates in our State Penitentiary went without running water over a span of three days due to corroded old pipes.
We know that the majority of inmates housed at the State Penitentiary are going to be released from prison after time served. Part of our responsibility to ensure public safety is making sure they’re prepared for that date and aren’t likely to reoffend. Nebraska benefits when our inmates have an opportunity to receive treatment towards that goal.
With a modernized facility, we can also improve the safety of our Corrections officers. A modern facility will have state-of-the-art technology and leverage up-to-date practices to enhance security. How can anyone be against a safer working environment for our Corrections officers? A cleaner, accessible, modern, and more welcoming facility promises to enhance the well-being of those who live there, as well as those who work there.
Some believe we should make physical improvements at the current penitentiary instead of pursuing a replacement facility. This would be expensive and logistically difficult. It was recently estimated to cost $220 million to renovate the 150-year-old property. These costs are likely to go up as work begins on the old buildings and with inflation. It will also be expensive to perform the work in the secure perimeter with the inmates present.
From other examples involving aged buildings, we know that costs typically overrun initial estimates— sometimes significantly. In 2014, the Nebraska Legislature voted to renovate the State Capital’s HVAC system at a cost of $78 million. Since then, the project’s costs have grown to over $116.5 million. Digging into a nearly 100-year-old building revealed issues unforeseen to contractors at the time of the estimate. Imagine the many unforeseen issues contractors would face if we renovated our 150-year-old State Penitentiary.
We are well beyond slapping a band-aid on the rundown State Penitentiary. It is my intention to replace and mothball the old Nebraska State Penitentiary.
Our Corrections officers deserve the safer work environment that a modern penitentiary would provide. Our inmates shouldn’t be housed in a facility where they must wonder if the water is going to work. And, if our goal is to provide people with the best opportunity for success upon reentry, then we must be willing to admit that the State Penitentiary no longer adequately serves that end and must be replaced.
While improving our prison system, we must also continue to invest in the men and women on the frontlines of public safety. As law enforcement has come under the microscope across the nation, it’s more important than ever to equip our new cadets for the rigors of the job. Law enforcement trainees in Nebraska must meet high physical and academic standards. They’re entering state law enforcement departments that have expectations of impeccable conduct and reputations for integrity and honesty. I’m calling for the expansion of our Law Enforcement Training Center so that the preparation of our new recruits in Nebraska is second-to-none.
My budget also requests the Legislature to allocate $16.9 million to upgrade and expand our State Patrol Crime Laboratory. Advances in technology are constantly generating new tools to fight crime. Investing in the State Crime Lab will ensure the State Patrol has the means to meet increased demand to process evidence.
If you have questions about my public safety recommendations, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2244. We must make sure the Good Life is safe and secure as we continue to grow Nebraska.