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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Works of Art
by the women of the Inmate Art Program
Iowa Correctional Institution For Women
January 2, 2015 – January 31 2015
3520 Grand Avenue
9:00 am t0 6:00 pm daily
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 [email@example.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.
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.
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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.
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 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.