Stinner: "Throw" money at Penitentiary Rehab or Build New Prison

Nov. 3, 2021, 4 p.m. ·

Sen. John Stinner (Zoom screenshot)
Sen. John Stinner (Zoom screenshot)

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A key state senator said Wednesday Nebraska faces a decision between throwing money at renovating the state penitentiary or building a new prison elsewhere.

Sen. John Stinner, chair of the Appropriations Committee, made the comment in a webinar on budget issues sponsored by the Open Sky Policy Institute. He was asked his thoughts on improving access to mental health care as opposed to building a new prison. Stinner said he was all for improving access to mental health care. But, as Corrections Director Scott Frakes has done, Stinner portrayed building a new prison as a question of whether or not to replace the Nebraska State Penitentiary.

“Do you want to throw $240 million at a renovated prison that’s 150 years old? I’ve renovated a lot of old buildings and I can tell you, the estimates are generally 10 to 20 percent off, because you always find a bearing wall, you always find a surprise that’s going to cost you a heck of a lot of money. Or do you want to build something new that basically, they’re telling me, is more efficient, will take less manpower, somewhere else? That’s the decision that you have,” Stinner said.

Earlier this year, Stinner sponsored an amendment to spend $15 million on designing, planning, and selecting a site for a new prison, which critics said was tantamount to approving it.

Stinner said more studies need to be completed, including facility plans and possible sentencing reforms, but the state needs to address prison overcrowding. He said the state could pay for prison construction through money flowing into the cash reserve from greater than expected revenues.

Last week the Economic Forecasting Advisory Board raised revenue projections by $475 million this fiscal year and $427 million for the next, bringing projected receipts for the two-year period to $10.9 billion.