Sen. Ernie Chambers

Sen. Ernie Chambers

A Nebraska state senator claims Gage County violated the Nebraska Constitution by contracting to house inmates across the state line in Kansas.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers has asked Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson to weigh in on the contract approved by the Gage County Board of Supervisors in late September.

The one-year contract reserves 10 beds in the Washington County, Kan. jail for Gage County inmates. A similar agreement was approved with Dawson County in central Nebraska to reserve five additional beds.

Both contracts were at a rate of $45 per bed, per day, whether or not they are being used.

This amounts to $675 per day, or $246,000 per year to house inmates in the other counties.

In a letter sent Wednesday, Chambers alleged that it’s a violation of the Nebraska Constitution to transport an inmate to another state for any offense committed in Nebraska.

“Obviously, any person in the Gage County jail committed an offense within the state,” he wrote. “Such a person shall not be transported out of the state for such an offense. No contract can nullify the Nebraska Constitution.”

Chambers went on to say it’s a “bit much” to use Nebraskans’ tax dollars to pay another state when no product is received and called on Peterson defend the Nebraska Constitution.

“As Nebraska’s top lawyer, do you have any interest in seeing that the Constitution of Nebraska is not so flagrantly violated?” Chambers wrote. "Or are you of the legal opinion that a person lawfully may ‘be transported out of the state for an offense committed within the state?’”

Gage County Board Chairman Myron Dorn declined to comment on the alleged violation, but did say Gage County isn’t the first in Nebraska to house inmates across state lines. He cited Red Willow as one example.

A worker at the Red Willow County Sheriff’s Department said their inmates haven’t been housed in Kansas for three to five years.

Gage County inmates have been held sporadically in Washington County for more than a year, though no beds were reserved.

The $45 cost per inmate at Washington County is $10 more than the standard rate Gage County previously paid. Officials justified the additional $10 per day because this would reserve the beds for Gage County, as opposed to saving the $10 and hoping the jail has room for Gage County inmates.

Not having a contract in place led to Gage County inmates being held in as many as seven different counties in Nebraska and Kansas, wherever open cells were available.

Talks of contracting with jails intensified this summer as the number of inmates reached double the Gage County jail’s capacity of around 27.

The board approved the contracts 5-1, with Gary Lytle voting in opposition and Matt Bauman absent.

Roger Harris, who serves as the Gage County Attorney, did not return calls regarding Chambers' allegations Friday. 

Reach Scott Koperski at scott.koperski@beatricedailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottKoperski.

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