January 25, 2015 JRC Newsletter

Vol. 6 #2 January 25, 2015

Minority Impact Statements

On January 20, 2015, the House Judiciary Committee held a short training on minority impact statements; correctional impact statements; and fiscal notes. After the election, new legislators tend to be overwhelmed with new information and this training would hopefully give them an overview of how and when this information is distributed to legislators. The Iowa Code states:

Prior to debate on the floor of a chamber of the general assembly, a correctional impact statement shall be attached to any bill, joint resolution, or amendment which proposes a change in the law which creates a public offense, significantly changes an existing public offense or the penalty for an existing offense, or changes existing sentencing, parole, or probation procedures. The statement shall include information concerning the estimated number of criminal cases per year that the legislation will impact, the fiscal impact of confining persons pursuant to the legislation, the impact of the legislation on minorities, the impact of the legislation upon existing correctional institutions, community-based correctional facilities and services, and jail, the likelihood that the legislation may create a need for additional prison capacity, and other relevant matters. The statement shall be factual and shall, if possible, provide a reasonable estimate of both the immediate effect and the long-range impact upon prison capacity.[1]

This is an important law designed to help legislators make informed and responsible choices when creating or changing existing criminal laws. Beth Lenstra from the Legislative Services Agency (LSA), who specializes in the areas of: Civil Rights; Corrections; Indigent Defense/Public Defender; Justice Department; and Parole Board reports, conducted the training. She provided handouts and an overview before opening it up for questions. Only two legislators had questions, both women, both Democrats. Hopefully the other legislators will now know who to contact with future questions.

Two hours later, the House Public Safety Committee provided the same training with Lenstra. This time there were questions from both sexes and both political parties. Rep. Bob Kressig (D-Cedar Falls) set the tone by asking Lenstra to explain it as if he knew nothing. It got things going. One of the best questions came from a new legislator on the handout the LSA distributed dealing with a legislative bill introduced in the previous session, HF 2133 – Interference with a Correctional Officer. This proposed legislation “expands the definition of the crime of interference with official acts to include instances where jail personnel are involved.” The rookie legislator wanted to know what actions qualified as interference with official acts. Rep. Rick Olson (D-Des Moines), an attorney, responded by saying just about anything, “shrugging your shoulders” can generate being charged with interference. The reason LSA chose this proposed legislation for an example was because it carries a significant minority impact.

If you are interested in learning more about these reports, Sen. Steve Sodders (D-State Center) the Senate Judiciary Chair, has scheduled a similar meeting in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, January 27, in Room 22 (behind the Senate chamber). The meeting will begin at 1:00 pm and presenters will be Beth Lenstra; Sarah Johnson, M.A., Justice Systems Analyst with Criminal & Juvenile Justice Planning; and Lettie Prell, Research Director with the Iowa Department of Corrections.

Veterans Court

A couple of years ago, a discussion started in Woodbury County about starting a program to help veterans. Those that had been repeatedly deployed during the Gulf War and the War on Terror were ending up in the court system. Stakeholders from the court system, substance abuse providers and political figures met to discuss the problem. No one thought that having a court just for veterans was a bad idea, but funding and time were issues. They decided to apply for a grant.

Justice for Vets eventually awarded a grant that covered 3 days of intense training in Buffalo, New York, based on a drug court model. Woodbury County Veterans Treatment Court is in its infancy, but it is the first of its kind in Iowa. Mid-December began the process for accepting applicants.

The county attorney is the gatekeeper. He does it on a case-by-case basis, not wanting to have strict requirements. For example, having the standard that a felony charge would automatically eliminate participation seemed counterproductive. Also, a dishonorable discharge does not restrict participation. It is important to look at any mental health or substance abuse issues and the VA Hospital does the evaluation. The program is a system of rewards with four levels or phases. To graduate, there needs to be long abstinence from substance abuse or misuse—you need to take the drugs that are prescribed for you—and you cannot take drugs that aren’t prescribed for you. When it seems appropriate, veterans are connected with volunteer mentors to help them through the system. The mentors are not allowed to give advice.

Veterans are unique. They don’t do well in a traditional drug court setting. A military background creates a different language for these veterans, and programs in other parts of the country have showed incredible success because it is shaped to meet the needs of the participants.

The main requirement for the program is strong motivation. Since it takes from 12-18 months to complete, it may be in the veteran’s best interest to go through the traditional court system. The county sheriff has been very supportive. On the booking sheet, offenders are asked, “Are you a veteran?” There is approximately one veteran per day being booked. That is a lot. It is too soon to know how many will be motivated enough for this program. Woodbury County is not actively seeking publicity for this since it is still in a developmental state. Word will spread.

What has made this project so different is that every time they ran into a roadblock, for example, the Department of Corrections telling them that it was too overloaded and couldn’t help, others stepped forward to volunteer their time and offer resources. This group of caring individuals went to the Iowa Capitol not looking for money, just wanting to share the hope that this experiment will be successful.

(This report is generated from a joint meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that met on January 21, 2015)

DOC Board

The Iowa Board of Corrections met on Thursday, January 22, in the Jesse Parker Bldg. on the State Capitol Complex. Before he called the meeting to order, Board of Corrections Chairperson Rev. Michael Coleman asked for a moment of silence in remembrance of Art Neu, former board member who passed away earlier this month.

Director’s Report

The meeting began with the director’s report. Director Baldwin told the board that all CBCs (Community-Based Corrections)passed the PREA (Prison Rape Eradication Act) audit. The prison in Rockwell City is the only facility that has not passed the audit, but staff is working on it. Congress is getting around to changing the law after listening to correctional officials throughout the country.

Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) has begun a program in which offenders may obtain a high school diploma. It is not a program in which the offenders receive an equivalent diploma – it’s an actual high school diploma. The high school classes are held at Southridge Mall in Des Moines, and offenders participating are counted as high school students. However, they are not counted as other students. The schools (North High for women & Lincoln High for the men – both in Des Moines) will receive $100 per student. A participating offender must not have a diploma or GED, and be between the ages of 18 and 25-years-old.

Director Baldwin said that the IDOC is now sharing data with United Way, since so many people in corrections are using United Way’s services. Also, Eyerly-Ball, a Des Moines-based mental health services agency, will be sharing data with the IDOC in March. In a sort-of related matter, a meeting between the IDOC, Broadlawns Hospital in Des Moines, and Magellan of Iowa occurred last week with a goal of better service to offenders leaving the system. Magellan has agreed to serve as a mediator. Director Baldwin said that representatives of Magellan have noted that “some people coming out [of prison] are not placable”.

According to Director Baldwin, the practice of moving lifers from Rockwell City to other facilities within the IDOC has reduced recidivism. The goal is to have lifers work as mentors to other inmates. Some lifers are not happy about moving, but the practice seems to be working.

The last order of business for Baldwin before he headed across the street to the Capitol was an update on what is happening at Fort Madison. A delegation of legislators will be touring the old and new prisons in Fort Madison on Friday, Jan. 23. The IDOC has received a certificate that says the GeoThermo system in the new prison is now working. Shive-Hattery, a Midwest architectural and building design firm, has been contracted with to work with the company correcting the smoke exhaust problem at the new facility. Apparently, the structure of the windows has to be changed in order to allow smoke to leave the building. Louvers will be installed in the upper half of windows, and that should make the difference. Because of the delay in opening the new prison, staff will have to be retrained. The facility has a vehicle making rounds and limited staff is now on duty.

Litigation Update

Michael Savala offered a presentation on legal issues that affect or have affected the IDOC. State v. Halverson was the first case he presented. Halverson was caught with contraband in a community-based correctional facility. The Iowa Supreme Court held that Halverson’s attorney was ineffective “as a result of his failure to assert there was insufficient evidence to show the residential facility was an institution under the management of the department of corrections.” The Court reasoned that the “management of each residential facility is left to the judicial district director” of community-based corrections. The IDOC will be offering language to the General Assembly to correct this, and the IDOC will include electronic devices (cell phones) to the proposal, also.

State v. Morris is a restitution case. Through the Iowa Prison Industries, Morris was employed at H & H Trailers, which according to law, must provide a prevailing wage. He was ordered to pay 20% restitution, which was later reduced to 15%. However, Morris wanted to pay 50% of his earnings as restitution. The IDOC objected and a district court judge brought the percentage back to 15%. Morris appealed and the Iowa Supreme Court overturned the decision of the district court.  Morris pursued this case pro se.

Iowa Prison Industries

Dan Clark, director of Iowa Prison Industries, gave an update on the activities of the IPI. He told the board about the IPI’s welding certification program, and about the apprentice program worked out between the prison in Anamosa and Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. Fifty inmates are enrolled in electrical, plumbing and carpentry classes and are required to complete 4,000 to 6,000 hours. One board member asked if any corresponding unions have been approached on this matter. Clark said that “no one has connected with a union yet”, but that will have to come at some time.

Re-Entry Grant & Budget

Dot Faust informed the board of a half-million dollar treatment and mental health program grant for females (IA Female Co-Occurring & Reentry Grant $545,074). The program uses a 6-month, 3-tier approach and uses the cognitive behavioral model when the women are released. The grant will help provide more counselors at Mitchellville and at least one more parole officer in the Fifth Judicial District Correctional CBC.

In addition to a few other grants, there is not much change in the governor’s budget for corrections. Brad Heir explained that the Mitchellville increase (above) includes operational costs that were overrun from 2014. The budget reflects the closing of the mental health institute at Mount Pleasant, and $295,000 in cost the IDOC must pay counties because people are sitting in county jails waiting to be processed at Oakdale.

Phone Rates

We were told that there was “good news” as it pertains to phone rates. The new international rates decreased. The cost of the call to an international station contains no rebate. It is the actual cost of the call. These rates will be effective on February 2, 2015.

Readers new to this phone matter may not connect with the following. We took notes and might not understand it ourselves. Current data on phone calls is positive (whatever that means). But the IDOT has to get through a 6-month cycle to determine a definite outcome. Staff will have a better reflection at the May Board meeting.

Long distant calls are up over 100%. 75% of all calls last 19-20 minutes. A new feature is the allowance of bank account money being able to transfer to the phone account. The ability to transfer canteen money will be inevitable, but not at this time. IDOC staff will have more information to share on this at a later date. There were no questions by board members on this issue.

6th Judicial District CBC

A large contingent of 6th Judicial District CBC employees was on hand. They were at the Capitol earlier in the day to meet with legislators at the IDOC breakfast. We were provided a handout of the Sixth District’s successes. The district has been determined to be financial sound after a December accreditation process.

Public Comments

Randy Dahm, a retired 6th District employee and whistleblower, spoke. He had suggestions that were mostly critical of the benefits. Otherwise, he thought that the Central Office should keep track of time, vacation, sick leave, etc., instead of each individual district. He stated that people were receiving health care insurance benefits, but were not on the 6th District’s payroll. Those people were working for the Community Corrections Improvement Association CCIA. He said that the audit missed a lot, such as miscalculating how much time was devoted to the Sixth District and how much time was devoted to CCIA, because of the lack of time cards.

The board adjourned without bringing up the issue of replacing Director Baldwin when he retires later this month. This is worth noting because the Iowa Code states that the Board of Corrections “shall” “recommend to the governor the names of individuals qualified for the position of director when a vacancy exits in the office.” It could be that the position is not vacant – yet. When it does become vacant, we hope the board calls for a nationwide search.

And Across the Street

IDOC Director John Baldwin announced at the Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee meeting, held at the Capitol while the BOC was meeting across the street, that Jerry Bartruff will be the IDOC’s contact person for legislators. Senator Mark Chelgren (R – Ottumwa) had posed the question.

 

 Wesley Acres

presents

Works of Art

by the women of the Inmate Art Program

Iowa Correctional Institution For Women

Mitchellville, Iowa

January 2, 2015 – January 31 2015

3520 Grand Avenue

9:00 am t0 6:00 pm daily

 

 

From Within

Some Iowa inmates have begun writing to express their ideas, thoughts, concerns, etc. We are offering them an opportunity to submit an article to our newsletter on a trial basis. We are going to print one article per month, or per issue. All articles will be unedited by JRC. These inmates are tutored by Mike Cervantes of Cedar Rapids.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Justice Reform Consortium. Comments may be submitted to the author by sending them to [insight@iowappa.com]

“Ban the Box”

by David Sponsler

Have you ever seen this question on a job application: During the past 7 years, have you been convicted of, or have you pleaded guilty or no contest to, a felony offense? If yes, please explain.

Today I am writing on a controversial issue called Ban the Box. I would like to start with a little information to explain the origin of the campaign and familiarize you with details to why I believe this would benefit all people involved. Ban the Box refers to an effort to have employers remove questions about conviction history from job applications.

The Ban the Box campaign was started by a group called All of Us Or None. The group is national and is made up of formerly incarcerated people and their families. It was started in 2004 after a series of community meetings identified job discrimination as huge hurdles to individuals trying to successfully return to their communities after being in jail and prison. Since 1 in 4 adults in the US has a conviction history, this affects not only the individual returning but also their family, community and society as a whole.  This means there are 65 million Americans who have an arrest or conviction that shows up in a routine background check. The Ban the Box campaign is trying to remove one hurdle to employment.

You ask, “How can this campaign help?” Well, for starters there are many barriers to overcome after being released from prison. Everything from housing, public benefits, college admission, loans and employment are more difficult with a conviction record. And the goal in releasing individuals is to hopefully rehabilitate them to re-enter society and be a success. Keeping the box on job applications gives it too much weight and prevents many people from a reasonable chance of finding employment. Of course, employers can still run a background check, but if the box is not on the application, then at least a person might have a chance to interview for the job.

As with most issues, there are two sides to every story. Opponents of the Ban the Box campaign have pointed out the liability factor that may arise if employers hire an ex-convict that harms someone while on the job. This is a fair concern. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that such lawsuits are extremely rare. The courts have also found that an employer will be protected against a negligent hiring lawsuit if: 1) a written application was used, 2) work and personal references were checked, and 3) an interview was conducted. It also makes it clear that a criminal background check is not required for an employer to be protected against liability.

Another concern of opponents is more focused on certain types of jobs. What if my organization/business serves vulnerable populations such as children, youth, elderly or disabled people. Although a background check may be required by law in certain professions, it is still possible for any employer to conduct this check after a potential employee has been found otherwise qualified. Furthermore, EEOC guidelines prohibit employers from considering convictions that are not directly related to job responsibilities in the job sought. These guidelines urge employers to conduct individual assessments on how recent a conviction may be and to also consider evidence of rehabilitation of the applicant. We know we are not guaranteed a job, but all this campaign is asking is that people with a conviction be given consideration.

To date, there are 45 cities and counties including New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Newark, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Seattle and San Francisco which have removed the past conviction history question. Also, seven states (Hawaii, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Connecticut have changed their hiring practices in public employment. The types of changes in the cities/states are different. For example, Newark, New Jersey, has prohibited all employers from inquiring about an applicant’s conviction records until that candidate has been found “otherwise qualified” for the job.

Although this issue will likely remain controversial, I am a firm believer in not judging a book by its cover. Most people getting released from prison have restitution to pay. Without a job, these payments will stick around for a longer time. The bare minimum cost of taking care of yourself and your family are hard when employment eludes you. Some say, “It’s not my problem.” This is true in a sense, but when an ex-convict has too much weight on their shoulders, it too often snowballs and reconviction is the end result. This becomes everyone’s problem because crime and incarceration have real costs to taxpayers.

SOURCES:

blog.nrf.com/2011/07/27/erasethe-boxendangercustomers

www.bantheboxcampaign.org

Selected links:

In a Safer Age, U.S. Rethinks Its ‘Tough on Crime’ System: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/14/us/with-crime-down-us-faces-legacy-of-a-violent-age-.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0

Choke hold article in NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/13/nyregion/police-keep-using-chokeholds-despite-bans-and-scrutiny.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0

New York City to End Solitary Confinement for Inmates 21 and Under: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/14/nyregion/new-york-city-to-end-solitary-confinement-for-inmates-21-and-under-at-rikers.html

How California Upended Its War On Drugs in 2014: http://www.vox.com/2015/1/7/7504801/proposition-47

William Bratton: Reconciling cops and civilians requires being good to each other http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/william-bratton-reconciling-cops-and-citizens-requires-being-good-to-each-other/2015/01/23/4ccd067e-a283-11e4-903f-9f2faf7cd9fe_story.html Washington Post, Jan. 23, 2015.

 

Please help us with a generous contribution. Thanks!

I want to help Justice Reform Consortium with its goal of working toward restorative justice.

Here is my contribution of $________________________________

Submit your subscription payment to:

Jean Basinger

Justice Reform Consortium

c/o Trinity United Methodist Church

P.O. Box 41005

Des Moines, IA 50311

Name: ___________________________________________________________

Address: ________________________________________________________

City: ____________________________State__________Zip_______________

 

UPCOMING EVENTS

Voices to be Heard is a support group for families and children of an incarcerated loved one. The group gathers to support and comfort those who know too well the grief that comes to those left behind when someone they love is incarcerated. The group meets on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at Union Park Methodist Church (East 12th & Guthrie in Des Moines) from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. The group brings in speakers, performs outreach, provide support groups and leadership classes. It is a good idea to contact Melissa ahead of time because the group provides dinner and a head count is preferred. Contact Melissa at 515/229-2645 for more information.

 

The next Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners meeting is at noon on Tues., February 17th at Wesley United Methodist Church, 800 East 12th.

MISSION:  To bring together and inform individuals and groups concerned about women in the Iowa correctional system and to act on their behalf.

FIWP Mailing Address:  Post Office Box 71272, Clive, IA  50325

We welcome Patti Wachtendorf, Warden at ICIW, as speaker for our February meeting.

Bring your lunch. The place and time are consistent throughout the year. The meetings are always held on the third Tuesday of the month, and always held from noon to 1:00 pm at Wesley United Methodist Church located at 800 East 12th Street in Des Moines. The location is a block west of East High School. Please contact Vi for more information.

 

Justice Reform Consortium member organizations: Iowa CURE & Iowa Coalition 4 Juvenile Justice; Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners; Trinity United Methodist Church; Methodist Federation for Social Action; Voices to be Heard; ACLU of Iowa; Social Action Committee, Des Moines Presbytery; Des Moines Chapter of WILPF; American Friends Service Committee; Plymouth Congregational Church, Board of Christian Social Action; Iowa Annual Conference, UMC; Iowa NOW and Des Moines NOW; National Association of Social Workers; Beacon of Life; Citizens for Undoing Racism-War on Drugs Task Force; Iowa-Nebraska Chapter NAACP; and Urban Dreams.

This newsletter published by:
Fawkes-Lee & Ryan, Public Policy Advocates http://iowappa.com/

Copyright © 2015. You may copy, download and print the information in this newsletter provided you do so in an unaltered manner, with full copyright acknowledgement and website link. This newsletter may also be found online in PDF format at: http://justicereformconsortium.org/?page_id=19 and at: http://iowappa.com/?page_id=407

Distributing this newsletter, or any part thereof, for commercial use is prohibited.

 

[1] The legislative services agency in cooperation with the division of criminal and juvenile justice planning of the department of human rights, shall develop a protocol for analyzing the impact of the legislation on minorities.

 

January 9, 2015 JRC Newsletter

Vol. 6 #1 January 9, 2015

Art Neu

Justice Reform Consortium lost a very dear friend earlier this year. Art Neu of Carroll passed away at Mercy Hospital in Des Moines on Friday, January 2, 2015. The former Republican state senator, Mayor of Carroll, and lieutenant governor was a strong supporter of JRC. In fact, he graciously accepted an award from us at a 2011 JRC Annual Meeting for his work toward our mission. We honored Art and former Democratic state senator and Story County Supervisor Johnie Hammond together. Both served on the Board of Corrections when it unanimously voted to support legislation restricting the use of restraints on pregnant prisoners [see article below].

We are reprinting the following article from the JRC Newsletter of November 7, 2011.

In her presentation to Art, Jean Basinger, JRC Chair, told Art that: “We realize that this is not the most prestigious award that you have received in your many years of service to the people of Iowa. Nevertheless, we feel that few have been more sincere.” Art has received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Iowa for distinguished service for exceptional contributions for advancing research and educational opportunities at the University.  He has served in the Iowa Senate and on the Board of Regents, was the Mayor of Carroll, and Chair of the Board of St. Anthony’s Hospital in Carroll. He is admired by both Democrats and Republicans.  He served on the Board of Iowa Public Radio and also Iowa Legal Aid, but, as Jean mentioned, his “concern for low income folks, the elderly, those living with disabilities, in institutions, abused women and children, and those living on low incomes has not been simply a matter of serving on boards. You have always gone beyond the board room.”

Art does more than sit on boards. According to his wife, Naomi, he has met people face to face at home. Many prisoners and their families write to Art asking for help and he is persistent in finding the answers that people seek.

Art served faithfully for many years on the Iowa Board of Corrections and was never afraid to ask the hard questions of the Corrections staff.  He took the risk of introducing a motion that the Board recommend to the governor and the Iowa Legislature that those persons serving a sentence of life without parole have the opportunity to apply for commutation of their sentence every 5 years rather than every 10 as it now stands.  (This was also supported by Johnie Hammond, who was honored along with Art.)  It was a very risky move.  But, as Jean said, “you have always believed that all people, even those who have committed a heinous crime need to have hope.  If they have hope they will do their time in a more responsible way. We know that you continue to work on the issues related to improving the criminal justice system.  We thank you so much for your unwavering commitment to justice for all the people of our state.”

Services for Art will be held in Carroll on January 17. Details are included in his obituary: http://www.dahnandwoodhouse.com/fh/obituaries/obituary.cfm?o_id=2888907&fh_id=11383

Michael Gartner, who used to be the editor of the Des Moines Register, won a Pulitzer Prize, was president of NBC, and owns the Iowa Cubs Baseball Team, has a weekly column in CityView (which he owns, also) shared his memories of Art.  Here is what he has to say about his old-time friend:

http://www.dmcityview.com/civic-skinny/2015/01/07/twist-branstad-calls-godfrey-suit-harassment-says-godfrey-should-pay-those-lamarca-bills/

No Restraints in Iowa DOC

Dueling op-ed articles in the Des Moines Register illustrate a festering problem in the Department of Corrections (DOC). Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners (FIWP), a group of dedicated volunteers whose mission is “to bring together and inform individuals and groups concerned about women in the Iowa correctional system and to act on their behalf”, chose to work towards codifying medically approved language pertaining to the use of restraints on pregnant women in a correctional environment. FIWP submitted a heartfelt plea to protect the lives of women and their unborn children. The response from the DOC was the type of reactive rant that many people write and eventually delete. It should never have been submitted for publication. So what happened to professional oversight in the DOC?

The FIWP op-ed showed the frustration felt by those lobbying for the proper use of restraints, especially after the Iowa Board of Corrections (IBOC) unanimously approved sponsoring the legislation. It was also extremely unfair to the legislators who introduced the legislation believing that the DOC lobbyists would help with the passage of the legislative bill, since its board approved it. Instead, the DOC lobbyists aggressively lobbied against the bill, demonstrating a complete lack of respect for the IBOC. When the contrary behavior by DOC staff was brought before the IBOC during the public comments part of a meeting, board members were speechless with shock at the news. One of the duties of the IBOC is to “report immediately to the governor any failure by the director of the department to carry out any of the policy decisions or directives of the board.” But does anyone, including the governor, have any control over the current culture within the DOC?

This, unfortunately, wasn’t an isolated incident. DOC staff wanted the use of a specific risk assessment in the Iowa Code as a means to control admissions. But instead of going through the IBOC whose duty is to “make recommendations from time to time to the governor and the general assembly”, the director, John Baldwin, decided to use the newly formed Public Safety Advisory Board (PSAB) to further his agenda. When it was discovered that PSAB did not have the authority to introduce legislation, Director Baldwin went to the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy to introduce the legislation. Why bypass the IBOC?

Another example of questionable practices by the DOC involved an incident of sexual harassment. A DOC contract lobbyist was told that a male employee involved in a particular incident had been fired, and the lobbyist lobbied accordingly. It came out at a subcommittee meeting, by the attorney for the victim – Roxanne Conlin – that the DOC employee had simply been reassigned. Trust is an important trait highly valued at the Iowa Capitol. The “ends justify the means” defense is unacceptable.

Another duty of the IBOC is to “recommend to the governor the names of individuals qualified for the position of director when a vacancy exists in the office”. Director Baldwin is retiring at the end of the month. Given the current culture for deceptive practices of circumventing the IBOC, it would have been prudent to do a national search for a new director. By limiting the selection to internal candidates, the IBOC is enabling the less than honest practices to continue. It would take a strong person of integrity to change the current culture. Is it a realistic goal for the IBOC and the governor to think that an internal candidate can generate the necessary return to truthfulness?

FIWP Awards Scholarships

The Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners [FIWP] recently awarded scholarships to eighteen women at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women [ICIW], which will enable each of the recipients to take two college credit classes in 2015. Enrolling in college level classes is a new experience for many of the scholarship recipients.

This year the FIWP is partnering with the Skylark Project, sponsored by the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which also awards college scholarships to the women at the ICIW. Through the cooperation of the Des Moines Area Community College, instructors will teach classes on-site at the ICIW for our scholarship students. Classes to be offered are Study Strategies, Western Civilization – Ancient to Early Modern, Survey of World Religions, and African American Literature.

The FIWP is very grateful for the many generous contributions to its Scholarship Fund, as are the women who benefit from it. For more information on how you can help, contact Rosemary at [jungmannr@gmail.com].

From Within

We are initiating a new column in this newsletter. Some Iowa inmates have begun writing to express their ideas, thoughts, concerns, etc. We are offering them an opportunity to submit an article to our newsletter on a trial basis. We are going to print one article per month, or per issue. All articles will be unedited by JRC. These inmates are tutored by Mike Cervantes of Cedar Rapids.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Justice Reform Consortium. Comments may be submitted to the author by sending them to [insight@iowappa.com]

We’ll begin with a submission by Simon C. Tunstall.

Between a Rock and a Hard Spot

St. Thomas Aquinas is reported to have said, “Justice without mercy is cruelty.” I would use the word ‘torture’ in place of ‘cruelty

In the summer of 1991, a fellow lifer and I had a public conversation about Iowa’s commutation process. We were, and still are, both serving life sentences. By that time, he had already served 14 years. I was starting my fourth year. My lifer friend authored a well-written article titled, “Parole Lifers, but Give Recidivists the Death Penalty” in the May, 1991 edition of the Communicator newspaper.

He presented a creative alternative to the archaic approach of leaving lifers locked in prison for the rest of their lives. The essence of his article was: before the governor commutes a life sentence, the prisoner must sign an Appeals Waiver. This is a legal document which states a prisoner knowingly and intelligently agrees to give up his/her constitutional rights to appeal any felony conviction they are convicted of upon release from prison. According to my colleague, once the person is found guilty of the felony, the death penalty will be promptly administered. They would be killed. Murdered!

Conversely, this writer is unconditionally against premeditated murder of any kind. How can a person or government morally elevate itself about a convicted murderer if they do the same thing? Does it really matter if the murderous act is mechanically sucking a fetus out of the mother’s womb, releasing gas into a chamber, or the senseless killing during a moment of rage, jealousy or greed? I don’t think so. Murder is murder. Society is ever so quick to conveniently cloak its murderous intentions behind clever euphemisms.

Having a life sentence myself, I see my fellow lifer’s position as epitomizing the “between a rock and a hard spot” mindset. This doomed mentality is perpetuated by how few life sentences are commuted in Iowa. According to the Sentencing Project based in Washington, DC, Iowa is one of six states (along with the federal corrections system) where all life sentences given are without the possibility of parole. In the past quarter-century, Iowa’s governors have commuted only twelve life sentences. Governor Tom Vilsack granted seven commutations in his eight years in office. Governor Chet Culver commuted two over four years. Current Governor Terry Branstad has commuted only three life sentences in his more than 19-year tenure.

What are the circumstances in which Governor Branstad would commute a sentence? It appears that saving a prison staff (like the Anamosa inmate recently released after 38 years) or similar extraordinary circumstances are the only reason.   However, reality dictates that lifers rarely get an opportunity to perform heroic deeds while doing their time. Living productively in prison for twenty-five or more years takes an extraordinary management of time and circumstances. Those serving life sentences help save the minds (lives), hearts and souls of countless persons during their imprisonment. Languishing away in Iowa’s prison are lifers who have served 25, 28, 38 and 51 years. Many of them are far from being the same person they were at the time of their arrest and conviction. Father Time loses no battles. Some of these lifers truly deserve another chance at freedom.

Iowa’s judicial system has in place safeguards to prevent the likes of Charles Manson or Jefferey Dahmer from ever being released from prison. And, not every lifer in prison committed anything remotely resembling a hideous crime. As a matter of fact, some never killed or kidnapped anyone. I know one man who has been incarcerated in Iowa for 27 years and he did not kill or kidnap anyone. His co-defendant testified at their joint criminal trial that he shot the victim in self-defense. This man was guilty of going into an apartment without the owner’s permission and for driving the car that transported his co-defendants to and from the crime scene. This man’s life sentence resulted from being convicted under the controversial – Felony Murder Rule. This meant he was held culpable for his co-defendant’s actions. Many judges, legal scholars and law professors consider the Felony Murder Rule to be unconstitutional.

I am not denouncing my fellow lifer’s creative proposal.   Like many others, he desperately seeks to bring about a change to Iowa’s commutation statute. Hopefully this essay will serve as a catalyst to bring about a serious dialogue between Iowa’s erudite and sober minds to give rise to a saner and just alternative to the antiquated and costly policy presently in place.

In several states, governors regularly commute life sentences. A 2001 study by Stanford University showed that lifers are an excellent parole risk and have the lowest recidivism rate among all offenders. My ideas are predicated on the theory that love and mercy are more influential than hate and revenge. The time has arrived to formulate a commutation policy and process that will recognize the tremendous waste of simply warehousing lifers. Your comments (pro and con) are encouraged and welcomed.

Selected links:

https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/FU/545171.pdf This link will take you to the Iowa Legislative Services Agency – Fiscal Division Monthly Newsletter – filled with a plethora of reports on criminal justice matters in state government.

If you like what we do:

Please help us with a generous contribution. Thanks!

I want to help Justice Reform Consortium with its goal of working toward restorative justice.

Here is my contribution of $________________________________

Submit your subscription payment to:

Jean Basinger

Justice Reform Consortium

c/o Trinity United Methodist Church

P.O. Box 41005

Des Moines, IA 50311

Name: ___________________________________________________________

Address: ________________________________________________________

City: ____________________________State__________Zip_______________

UPCOMING EVENTS

Voices to be Heard is a support group for families and children of an incarcerated loved one. The group gathers to support and comfort those who know too well the grief that comes to those left behind when someone they love is incarcerated. The group meets on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at Wesley United Methodist Church, 800 East12th St. in Des Moines from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. The group brings in speakers, performs outreach, provide support groups and leadership classes. It is a good idea to contact Melissa ahead of time because the group provides dinner and a head count is preferred. Contact Melissa at 515/229-2645 for more information.

The next Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners meeting is at noon on Tues., January 20th at Wesley United Methodist Church, 800 East 12th in Des Moines.

MISSION:  To bring together and inform individuals and groups concerned about women in the Iowa correctional system and to act on their behalf.

FIWP Mailing Address:  Post Office Box 71272, Clive, IA  50325

Our January presenters will be Brian and/or Rita Carter, volunteer lobbyists for the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Bring your lunch. The place and time are consistent throughout the year. The meetings are always held on the third Tuesday of the month, and always held from noon to 1:00 pm at Wesley United Methodist Church located at 800 East 12th Street in Des Moines. The location is a block west of East High School. Please contact Vi for more information.

Justice Reform Consortium member organizations: Iowa CURE & Iowa Coalition 4 Juvenile Justice; Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners; Trinity United Methodist Church; Methodist Federation for Social Action; Voices to be Heard; ACLU of Iowa; Social Action Committee, Des Moines Presbytery; Des Moines Chapter of WILPF; American Friends Service Committee; Plymouth Congregational Church, Board of Christian Social Action; Iowa Annual Conference, UMC; Iowa NOW and Des Moines NOW; National Association of Social Workers; Beacon of Life; Citizens for Undoing Racism-War on Drugs Task Force; IowaNebraska NAACP; Urban Dreams.

This newsletter published by:

Fawkes-Lee & Ryan, Public Policy Advocates http://iowappa.com/

Copyright © 2015. You may copy, download and print the information in this newsletter provided you do so in an unaltered manner, with full copyright acknowledgement and website link. This newsletter may also be found online in PDF format at: http://justicereformconsortium.org/?page_id=19 and at: http://iowappa.com/?page_id=407

Distributing this newsletter, or any part thereof, for commercial use is prohibited.

UNSUBSCRIBE INSTRUCTIONS: Simply reply to this message with the word “Unsubscribe” in the subject box.