Nebraska Gov. Heineman announces criminal investigation into prison sentencing scandal

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LINCOLN, Nebraska — Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman said Thursday he has ordered a criminal investigation into state corrections employees who miscalculated hundreds of prison sentences and incorrectly allowed some inmates' early release, despite guidance from the state Supreme Court.

Gang members convicted in shootings and serial burglars numbered among the hundreds of criminals released before their sentences were complete. Law enforcement agencies had to track down some two dozen former inmates and return them to prison. More than 250 were allowed to remain free because they would already have completed their sentences at the time of the roundup; others were allowed to participate in parole or furlough programs.

Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning said the Nebraska State Patrol and the Lancaster County attorney's office would review a Lincoln law firm's investigation into the debacle for possible criminal activity.

Internal emails released by the state show the attorney general's office advised Nebraska Department of Correctional Services officials of two Nebraska Supreme Court rulings that spelled out the proper way to calculate a prison term for inmates serving a mandatory minimum.

"Those responsible for these errors will be held accountable," Heineman said at a Thursday news conference.

Bruning said he doesn't suspect any crimes were committed but that the investigation is needed to rebuild the public's broken trust. He said he intends to demonstrate "unprecedented transparency" by releasing the law firm's findings.

"The public rightfully has lost some confidence in the process," Bruning said.

Mike Kenney, director of the corrections department, said late Wednesday that the agency had suspended some employees who are implicated in the sentencing scandal. Kenney declined to release names or say how many employees were being suspended, but said more could yet be disciplined for their involvement.

"I take full responsibility for correcting this problem," Kenney said.

The miscalculated sentences were corrected earlier this summer. Most of the sentences that needed to be extended applied to inmates still in prison, although about two dozen who were released early had to be returned to prison. Heineman said Thursday that one inmate is still at large and may have left the state.

Kenney said that to avoid further such mishaps in the future, the agency's record department will now obtain the judge's sentencing order for each current and new inmate instead of relying on commitment orders provided by court personnel.

Heineman said the law firm's review indicated that Kenney and his predecessor, Bob Houston, were never told that the prison terms had been miscalculated.

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