Several neighborhoods in Omaha, Ne., produce some of the highest incarceration rates found anywhere in the U.S., found an Omaha World-Herald analysis of Harvard University data. In a 2010 national snapshot of people behind bars, more than a half dozen North Omaha census tracts produced higher rates of male incarceration than any in south-central Los Angeles. Overall, Nebraska locks up people of color at far higher rates than the nation as a whole. Nebraska's gaps between its low White incarceration rate and high rates for minorities are among the nation's widest.
At a time of a national reckoning over race, such disparities raise questions whether Nebraska has done enough to address historical inequities and multigenerational poverty that some say have helped create a birth-to-prison pipeline in North Omaha. “If we continue down the same path that we're going down, how's this ever going to change?” said State Sen. Terrell McKinney, who represents the heart of North Omaha. Like poverty, North Omaha incarceration has become intergenerational. It's not uncommon to see two or even three generations of a family imprisoned. Along with Gov. Pete Ricketts’ push to build a $270 million prison, lawmakers have proposals from a prison working group that seek to overhaul the state’s criminal justice system to reduce recidivism and incarceration. McKinney and fellow North Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne are pushing a plan to put nearly half the state’s $1 billion in federal COVID-19 economic relief funds into a massive effort to transform both North Omaha and South Omaha, center of the city’s Hispanic population.