JRC February 22 Newsletter

Vol. 6 #4 February 22, 2015

Risk Assessments for Sentencing?

Attorney General Eric Holder eloquently supported our position on the use of risk assessments in making sentencing determinations when he wrote[1]:

Criminal sentences must be based on the facts, the law, the actual crimes committed, the circumstances surrounding each individual case, and the defendant’s history of criminal conduct.  They should not be based on unchangeable factors that a person cannot control, or on the possibility of a future crime that has not taken place.  Equal justice can only mean individualized justice, with charges, convictions, and sentences befitting the conduct of each defendant and the particular crime he or she commits.

We have adamantly opposed using risk assessments for sentencing for a number of years and for a growing number of reasons.

First, it can never be said often enough; no one should be sentenced on the probability of committing future crimes. As Sonja B. Starr, a professor of law at the University of Michigan stated, “As currently used, the practice is deeply unfair, and almost certainly unconstitutional.”

Our second concern is: Which risk assessment? There are a number of risk assessments and more are being developed. Risk assessments that are based on: educational level; employment record; your neighborhood; criminal family/spouse; criminal history of friends; constructive use of spare time; socioeconomic background, etc., have justifiably drawn criticism. Why should a person be sentenced on factors he or she has no control over? Supporters of sentencing people based on risk assessments believe that it will help address the disproportionate number of minorities being incarcerated. But Attorney General Holder fears that it “may exacerbate unwarranted and unjust disparities that are already far too common in our criminal justice system and in our society.”

The third concern is training. Even if a risk assessment could be developed that did not include discriminatory factors, who and how would everyone involved be trained? Without proper training, there are serious quality control issues. Administers of the risk assessment instrument and the judges themselves would require training. Where would the funding for the training come from?

Our fourth concern is the breakdown of needed checks, balances and oversight between the three branches of government. A bill currently being introduced by the legislative branch would create law that gives the Iowa Department of Corrections (executive branch) the power to establish a “validated risk assessment” to be used by judges (judicial branch) for sentencing. We appreciate that this is being proposed with the best of intentions, but there is a clear conflict of interest for the Department of Corrections given the duty to monitor prison admittance.

Wanting to keep low risk offenders out of the correctional system is a worthy goal that we strongly support. Limited resources would be better spent providing quality services to address the needs of these defendants, whether it is meaningful treatment for substance abuse; therapy and/or medication for mental illness; or job training/education to lift people out of poverty. Addressing individual needs is a sounder approach over projected possible risk of future crime.

A Good Opinion On HF 161

The following is a contribution by Jim Nervig, an attorney with the West Des Moines law firm of Brick Gentry P.C.

A new bill, House File 161, has been introduced in the 2015 Iowa Legislature.   In my opinion, the Bill furthers the equal protection standards of the Iowa Constitutional and should be supported.

In Ames Rental Property Ass. v. City of Ames, 736 N.W.2d 255 (Iowa 2007), the Iowa Supreme Court upheld a discriminatory City of Ames regulation that allowed an unlimited number of persons related by blood or marriage to live together while limiting to three the number of unrelated persons in single-family zones, based on a determination that there was a legitimate governmental interest in providing quiet neighborhoods. Ames Rental Property Assn.  The Supreme Court’s opinion was divided, with four Justices joining the opinion and three Justices dissenting.  The case raised a very important equal protection question of whether government has the right to discriminate, as to zoning and housing regulations, in favor of individuals who are related by blood or marriage and those who are not.

HF 161 would eliminate the discrimination, by providing:

A city shall not, after January 1, 2016, adopt or enforce any regulation or restriction related to the occupancy of residential rental property that is based upon the existence of familial or nonfamilial relationships between the occupants of such rental property.

The Iowa Supreme Court has interpreted the Iowa Constitution’s equal protection clause to afford a higher level of protection than afforded under the U.S. Constitution.  Racing Ass’n of Cent. Iowa v. Fitzgerald, 675 N.W.2d 1 (Iowa 2004).  Under the Iowa Constitution, a classification based on an extreme degree of overinclusion or underinclusion cannot pass rational basis equal protection review.  Id.  In my opinion, the four-Justice majority erred in the Ames Rental decision.  Under the discriminatory provisions of the Ames zoning ordinance, four related persons are permitted to live in a house, while four unrelated persons are prohibited.  After the Varnum decision, it seems very clear to me that government has no rational basis for denying housing to similarly situated individuals based on whether or not they are married or blood relatives.  If there is any rational basis for prohibiting four unrelated persons from living together, then the same rational basis would apply equally to deny four related individuals the right to live together.  An ordinance that so discriminates is fatally underinclusive and in violation of Iowa equal protection.

The Varnum decision did not break new constitutional ground, but reaffirmed the original high standards of Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuant of Happiness.”  The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

“The equal rights of man, and the happiness of every individual, are now acknowledged to be the only legitimate objects of government.”  [emphasis added]  Thomas Jefferson to A. Coray, 1823, at 15:482, Memorial Edition, Lipscomb and Bergh, ed., 20 Vols, Washington, D.C., 1903-04.

When you check the list of lobbyist declarations on HF 161, you will note that Iowa cities are lined up in opposition.  This is no surprise.  Cities historically have argued that the Legislature should not interfere with their sacred home rule authority.  Home rule is well established, but it cannot override the rights of the individual citizen to be free from irrational governmental discrimination.  Cities have contended that there are legitimate reasons for discrimination against unrelated individuals.  One example is alleged problems raised by four or more poor immigrants, unrelated by marriage or blood, living together in a single house because they cannot afford to live separately.  Cities are concerned that such immigrants may drive separate cars to work, thereby creating traffic congestion in the neighborhood.  Of course, the same traffic congestion could be caused by more than four related individuals living in the same house.  There is absolutely no rational basis for such discrimination.  It is Wrong.  If cities are concerned about traffic problems and other issues that may come to exist by virtue of multiple occupants, then cities have the constitutional obligation to narrowly tailor their regulations to address the evils that they contend exist.

The Iowa Supreme Court lost its way on this issue.  The Legislature now is considering doing the right thing.  Our American way of life will only be enhanced by zealously protecting the rights of all of us to equal protection under the law.  Please consider the Bill, and please consider supporting the Bill.

Bills On The Move

The following consist of a small sample of bills that are moving, and which JRC is attempting to influence the passage or defeat. We will do our best to include reasons for our support or opposition as time and space permit.

House File 158 Against

A bill for an act enhancing the criminal penalty for an assault on an operator of a motor vehicle providing transit services as part of a public transit system, and providing penalties. (Formerly HSB 30) On House Calendar. 

SF 219 For

This bill makes small amounts of possession of marijuana (5 grams or fewer) a simple misdemeanor, compared with current law, which makes the same amount subject to a serious misdemeanor. [Simple misdemeanors are punishable by up to 30 days and jail and a fine of $65 to $625, or both; Serious misdemeanors are punishable by serving a sentence of up to one year in jail and a fine of $315 to $1,875, or both.] On Senate Calendar. A Fiscal Note (with Minority Impact Statement included) has been attached to this bill.

HF 161 For

A bill relating to the authority of cities to regulate and restrict the occupancy of residential rental property.  Passed out of committee. See article above – A Good Opinion On HF 161.

SSB 1185 Against

A study bill relating to the commission of a class “A” felony by a person under 18 years of age, providing penalties, and including effective date and applicability provisions.  Supposedly, this bill is intended to comply with Iowa Supreme Court decisions in State v. Lyle, State v. Null, State v. Pearson, and State v. Ragland; and the United State Supreme Court decisions of Miller v. Alabama, et. al. It goes far beyond these rulings and will pave a path back to the courts to decide the fate of juveniles. Please contact Senators Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids), Wally Horn (D-Cedar Rapids), and Charles Schneider (R-West Des Moines) and tell them that there are grave concerns with this bill. It does not carry the intent of the Iowa Supreme Court in recent decisions on juvenile sentencing of class “A” felonies.

These are just a few of the bills on which we have been lobbying. There are several more, but the ones mentioned above are of particular interest.

If you would like an explanation of why we oppose or support a particular bill or legislation, contact us at info@iowappa.com and we will respond as soon as possible. We may include your concerns in the next newsletter, also.

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]

The Challenges

By Tim P.

What is most challenging about my stay at IMCC? One hears plenty of grumbling about the meals, but few know just how hard the dietary supervisors work to provide the best meal for the budget given. It was too bad that the donated cereal bars went moldy. They were tossed and that same day the dietary director found a special deal for 7,000 Danishes that could have been sold at Starbucks. Everyone can point to a meal that is not quite how mom used to fix it, but how many know we almost lost one of the most popular meals – chicken quarters? For several weeks the meat ordered did not come it. Then, when other institutions were looking to drop it from the menu because the price jumped from $.10 to $.46/pound (multiply by 1000, a little over 30 times a year and it is a lot of money), our director insisted on staying with the chicken. And who can complain about the special treats: fresh pineapple, green onions, 1,700 pounds of turkey and still to come – Chicken Cordon Bleu and blueberry cheesecake?

Others find a gripe with their roommates. Some only think of themselves. They don’t know the value of cleanliness or are loud. We can match them rude-for-rude and bring more tension to the room or we can take another approach. If something is really bothering us, we can talk to that person, but in the end we are left to realize the only person I can change is myself. Am I being respectful of others or am I being rude? Respect and kindness can become contagious.

Another frequent area of grumbling is all the injustice of the justice system. Many can tell stories of being let down by a lawyer, dumped on by a judge and abandoned by the DOC, a system which proclaims a lofty mission statement stating its goal, “To Advance Successful Offender Re-entry…” But who see any of that going on? In a recent Book Club book, Orange is the New Black , the following quote is found:

Our criminal justice system has no provision for restorative justice in which an offender confronts the damage they have don and tries to make it right to the people they have harmed. Instead our system of “corrections” is about arms length revenge and retribution. Then its overseers wonder why people leave prison more broken than when they went in.

After a while the system can begin to wear you down. You depend on the system to clothe you. You depend on the system to feed you. You depend on the system to entertain you. You depend on the system to provide you a job, whether you really have to work or not. Rather than grumbling, waiting for someone else to do everything for us, maybe the real challenge is to wake up to the situation we are in – to see the hurt we caused in the past and to begin anew today.

Do you struggle with anger and the desire to strike out at those around you? Then maybe AVP (Alternatives to Violence) is for you. It is a place to bond with others and through various activities learn new ways to view others and express yourself. Do you feel abandoned, cut off from the world? Tuesday night choir may interest you. Even if you are not the best singer, here you can learn about community, work toward a positive goal with those willing to stand by your side. Do you want to make a difference in someone’s life, but not know how? Maybe hospice is for you. Though it is not really about you, it is about being there for someone in their final hours. Do you struggle with sin, forgiveness, God and how you have lived your life? Every day the chapel has some event with volunteers coming in. There are also books, videos and music.   Rather than being held in prison by the challenges of life, may you find freedom to make a difference first in your life, then in the lives around you.

Selected links:

Jails Have Become Warehouses for the Poor, Ill and Addicted, a Report Says: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/11/us/jails-have-become-warehouses-for-the-poor-ill-and-addicted-a-report-says.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0 TIMOTHY WILLIAMS New York Times. FEB. 11, 2015.

Where left meets right. The strange-bedfellows push for criminal-justice reform is real and important, but no assurance of success. TMP’s editor-in-chief Bill Keller ponders the left-right alliance. The Marshall Project

When was the last time you made a contribution to help fund the activities of JRC?

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

 

MOBILIZING TO END MASS INCARCERATION: AN ACTION CONFERENCE

SATURDAY, MAY 2, 2015

8:30 AM until 4:00 PM

GERARD HALL, ALLEN COLLEGE OF NURSING

WATERLOO, IOWA

 

Program

8:30 AM          Sign in and coffee

9:00 AM          Keynote Address – Mr. David Liners

10:00 AM        Action Panel # 1 – Keeping people out of the prison system

11:30 AM        Lunch (vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options available.)

12:15 PM        Action Panel # 2 – Creating reasonable sentencing, parole and probation policies

1: 45 PM         Action Panel # 3 – Supporting and reintegrating those returning from prison

3:15 PM          Working together statewide- creating an action network.

4:00 PM          Conference ends

 

David Liners is the Executive Director of WISDOM, a Wisconsin network of faith based organizations, part of the international Gamaliel Foundation.   Under his leadership, the statewide network has grown from three to eleven diverse, interfaith organizations in Wisconsin. He helps develop new models and strategies for a variety of projects. He holds a BA from Marquette University, a Masters of Divinity from the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and a Doctor of Ministry from St. Mary of the Lake University. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

WISDOM

WISDOM aims to deepen relationships among faith based communities to empower people to address the root causes of social injustice. It encompasses 11 organizations across the state but maintains the grassroots basis for its decision-making. It is able to mobilize large numbers of people in a relatively short time around a defined and disciplined method. It has launched the 11×15 movement, which takes a comprehensive approach to reducing the prison population in Wisconsin through policy change.

“In my experience, people who have been incarcerated rarely have difficulty identifying the parallels between.. [the old Jim Crow system].. and [mass incarceration].

Once they are released, they are often denied the right to vote, excluded from juries, and relegated to a racially subordinated existence. Through a web of laws, regulations, and informal rules…powerfully reinforced by social stigma, they are confined to the margins of mainstream society and denied access to the mainstream economy.

They are legally denied the ability to obtain employment, housing, and public benefits – much as African Americans were once force into a segregated, second class citizenship by Jim Crow.”

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness

SPONSORS

War on Drugs Task Force of Cedar Valley Citizens for Undoing Racism

Justice Reform Consortium of Iowa

Interfaith Alliance of Iowa

Iowa Unitarian Universalist Witness and Advocacy Network

Waterloo Commission on Human Rights

Registration Form

Name ________________________________

Address _________________________

________________________________

E-mail ___________________________

Phone ___________________________

Do you represent an organization? ________________________________

Registration Fee

$20 if submitted prior to April 15, 2015

$25 if submitted after April 15, 2015

______Scholarship requested (must be a person with limited resources.)

Checks payable to: Waterloo Commission on Human Rights

Mail registration to:     Waterloo Commission on Human Rights,

620 Mulberry St.

Waterloo, IA 50703.

 

For further information contact:

allen.hays@uni.edu

 

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 East 12th 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., March 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

UPCOMING MEETINGS & PRESENTERS

Our March meeting will focus on Re-entry.  Presenters will be the Rev. Lee Schott sharing the Reentry program of Woman at the Well and Kathy Culbertson sharing the Reentry program of ICIW.

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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[1] Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers 57th Annual Meeting and 13th State Criminal Justice Network Conference: http://www.justice.gov/opa/speech/attorney-general-eric-holder-speaks-national-association-criminal-defense-lawyers-57th and also in a letter to the United States Sentencing Commission. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/11/opinion/sentencing-by-the-numbers.html?_r=0

JRC February 8, 2015 Newsletter

Vol. 6 #3 February 8, 2015

24/7 Sobriety Program      

A pilot program out of South Dakota has drawn attention in both chambers of the Iowa Legislature this session. Art Mabry of the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office gave a presentation to the Senate Transportation Committee on January 28th. The 24/7 Sobriety Program is simply a drug testing program promoted as an alternative to jail:

This is more than just a program but a commitment to working with chronic DWI defenders into changing their behavior and prevention of additional DWI arrests. The program has one main goal for each DWI defendant and that is sobriety 24 hours per day and 7 days per week. This started as a pilot program in January 2005. We currently work with 67 participating agencies, including police departments, sheriff’s offices, and the Unified Judicial System.

The program allows people to continue to work with the provision that they are tested for alcohol and/or drug use every twelve hours. If a person skips or fails the test, they go to jail for 12 hours. The second failed test means 24 hours in jail and the third failed test lands you back in court. The immediate consequence to the undesired behavior is the program’s strength.

There are a number of ways to test participants with varying costs: 1) A twice a day breath test – $2 a day; 2) Urinalysis – $40 per test; 3) Drug Patch (lasts 7-10 days) – $40 per patch; 4) SCRAM* (measures alcohol use through the skin) – $40 activation fee, $40 deactivation fee and $6 a day for monitoring; 5) Ignition Interlock – $80 installation fee, $40 removal fee, $103 monthly lease fee plus inspection fees of $40 initial at time of installation and $20 after 60 days.

Given the rather significant costs for the tests that are charged to the participants, the program is self-supporting. It was also pointed out that many people would be better off going the traditional route through the court system, since the program requires 12-18 months of testing. It is not a perfect program and other states have tweaked it. Mabry stated that he’s not marketing the program; it’s just been successful in South Dakota. “It has saved lives.” The RAND Corporation has expressed support for the program.

After the presentation, Senator Bob Dvorsky, (D-Coralville) Vice-Chair of Transportation, voiced his concern that Iowa’s Community-Based Corrections was already providing these services and also wondered why this presentation was before the Senate Transportation Committee instead of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Tod Bowman (D-Maquoketa), Chairman of Transportation Committee, stated that this issue also impacted their committee and he thanked Senator Chris Brase (D-Muscatine) for bringing this program to their attention.

On Thursday, February 5, 2015, the subcommittee of Rep. Joel Fry (R-Osceola), Rep. Rob Taylor (R-West Des Moines) and Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines (D-Des Moines) met to discuss HF109. This proposed legislation is based on the 24/7 Sobriety Program. Lobbyists for law enforcement associations were supportive of the bill. Lisa Davis-Cook, lobbyist for the Iowa Association for Justice was registered against the bill stating that her folks were concerned that there wasn’t any treatment component to this program. Justice Reform Consortium is registered as undecided on the bill because although keeping people working and out of jail is desirable, the cost of the program is problematic for many people and the program itself will not address addiction. This was seen early on in the implementation of the program. Alcohol testing had to be expanded to drug testing, since participants just switched to other means to escape reality. After all, twice a day drug testing certainly doesn’t make reality very desirably. Rep. Taylor passionately proclaimed his concern at the cost to the participants and also the broadness of how controlled substances are defined in the Iowa Code. He refused to sign off on the bill until his concerns could be addressed. Rep. Fry stated that the House Republican Caucus was supportive of this program so he signed off on the bill along with Rep. Gaines.

*September 16, 2009 the SD Supreme Court upheld SCRAM use (State v. Lemler 2009 SD 86)

Parole Legislation

A subcommittee met on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 29, regarding a bill that will extend the time period from 20 days to 90 days for a victim to submit an “opinion concerning the release of the offender in writing prior to the hearing”, or to appear in person with or without counsel “to express an opinion concerning the offender’s release”.

The subcommittee meeting on House Study Bill 26 brought little interest from the lobby. Other than Fawkes-Lee & Ryan representing Justice Reform Consortium and the United Methodist Church (both declared as “undecided” on the bill) the only others in attendance were two representatives from the Parole Board and one from the Department of Corrections.

What we didn’t know going into the meeting was that this change would amount to a cost of $300,000. However, it has been determined that making the time period 25 days rather than 90 days would reduce the cost from six figures down to $16,000 per year.

Parole Board acting Chair John Hodges cited a few numbers for the subcommittee. The BOP peruses approximately 11,450 inmate files per year. It conducts about 340 personal interviews with offenders during a year’s time. Of those 340 interviews, 229 involve victim input. The estimated huge cost of changing victim notification from 20 to 90 days is associated with the approximate dates of the hearings.

HSB 26 was amended with language that kept the cost down. The amendment will provide notification of “not less than sixty days prior to the hearing” to a victim residing outside of Iowa, and victims within the state will receive notice not less than twenty-five days. This gives the BOP the flexibility to manage its case load. Also, the amendment provides for the electronic notification if the registered victim requests it, along with the notification that is sent by regular mail.

The following link will lead you to the most recently posted minutes of the Iowa Board of Parole: http://www.bop.state.ia.us/Document/1002. Since the minutes of this meeting were posted, the following decision came down from Federal Court for the Southern District of Iowa: Greiman v. Hodges. There is a nexus between the minutes and the federal case.

Caution; Be Careful What You Ask For

Just because a suggestion for legislation sounds like a good idea, it may have adverse results. The Iowa Department of Human Services is seeking enactment of a bill that will enhance the penalty for a person who “escapes” from a civil commitment program.

Senate File 150 and House Study Bill 91 are companion bills that have passed out of subcommittees (SF 150 was originally Senate Study Bill 1088 and has passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee). The bill contains a one-word change, striking the word “simple” and inserting “serious”. It seems like such a small change, but we suggest otherwise.

The Sexually Violent Predator Chapter of the Iowa Code, Chapter 229A, began in the mid to late 1990s. Not long after it was enacted an incident occurred in Council Bluffs which led to a provision in the chapter that provided penalties for “escape”. A person who was scheduled to appear in the courthouse for a civil commitment hearing began running down the street. He was apprehended a few blocks away, but the attorney general’s office felt that there should be some sort of penalty for absconding.   At the time, a simple misdemeanor was recommended by the attorney general’s staff because this was a new area of law and the AG staff was not certain that there would be a constitutional challenge to the law. The term “escape” is usually left to the people who are confined to a facility because of a crime they have committed. However, sexually-violent predators have served their criminal sentences and are now being held because a court of equity, not a criminal court, has committed them for civil reasons.

The original provision of “escape” in chapter 229A was inserted for safekeepers, those persons who have served their criminal convictions but are waiting for their civil commitment hearing in district court. The original legislation that was enacted in 2001 referred to “respondent”. It was changed a year later to “person”.

Last August, Cory West walked away from an off-campus work release program and disappeared for a few days. He was found in Oklahoma and brought back to Iowa where he was charged with escape and spent 30 days in jail on the simple misdemeanor charge. Now, authorities want to increase the penalty to the next tier of misdemeanors, a serious misdemeanor. We oppose this legislation for a number of reasons.

Enhancing a penalty rarely, if ever, serves as a deterrent. West could have been charged with “Contempt of Court”, which would have allowed the state to keep him locked up for up to 180 days. Instead, the state opted for the alternative, incarceration for 30 days in the county jail. Iowa Code Section 229A.5B allows the state to charge a person who has absconded with the simple misdemeanor, contempt of court, or both. Arguments for this bill include the hypothetic suggestion that the punishment does not fit the crime. A simple misdemeanor carries a penalty of 30 days in jail, a fine, or both. A serious misdemeanor is punishable by one year in jail, a fine, or both. A person charged with contempt can be held for up to 180 days, and it’s a civil penalty compared to the criminal sanctions of a misdemeanor.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) compares the proposed penalty to that of an inmate who escapes prison, but the comparison is off the mark. Does a person actually escape from a program in which they have been committed to in a civil court? Or do they just abscond? And is there a difference? We believe so.

Iowa Code addresses the matter of someone walking away from the program. They are to be returned to the program in Cherokee. Does it really matter that a person will serve 30 days or one year in jail? After serving the time in jail they must be returned to confinement in a civilly committed atmosphere. What lesson has been learned by having a previously confined person sent to confinement, only to be moved to another program of confinement? We questioned who pays for the cost of confinement in jail. The county does, but sarcastically, we can assume that the county charges the absconder for room and board. And since the offense of a serious misdemeanor requires the absconder to a court-appointed lawyer, a trial information hearing, and other constitutionally-protected amenities, the cost of bringing an absconder back to confinement will increase. A simple misdemeanor is punishment enough.

Rep. Marti Anderson (D-Des Moines) asked a very important question during the subcommittee meeting after the state attorney representing DHS compared West’s absconding to an escape from a correctional facility. “What is the penalty for a person escaping from a facility who is being held because they have been considered not guilty because of their mental inability to stand trial?” The only answer was that there were only 5 or 7 people in Iowa being held on those grounds. The question deserved a better answer.

We believe that the state should be charging SVPs and safekeepers with contempt instead of criminal sanctions. The state can often hold them longer and the charge would not be challenged as unconstitutional as easily as a criminal charge. Why take the chance? We predict that this change in the law will be questioned by a very good defense attorney sometime in the future, and all we can do is say once again, “we told you so”.

 Bills On The Move

 

The following consist of a small sample of bills that are moving, and which JRC is attempting to influence the passage or defeat. We will do our best to include reasons for our support or opposition as time and space permit.

HSB 91 Against

A study bill for increasing the criminal penalty for a sexually-violent predator who escapes or attempts to escape from custody. Passed subcommittee. AND Companion billSSB 1088 AgainstA study bill for an act increasing the criminal penalty for a sexually-violent predator who escapes or attempts to escape from custody. Subcommittee recommends passage. This bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and has been renumbered as SF 150Reasons for our objection are related in the story aboveCaution; Be Careful What You Ask For.

House File 158 Against A bill for an act enhancing the criminal penalty for an assault on an operator of a motor vehicle providing transit services as part of a public transit system, and providing penalties. (Formerly HSB 30) On House Calendar. SSB 1121 ForA study bill for an act relating to the possession of marijuana, and providing a penalty. Subcommittee: Sodders, Hogg, Petersen, Garrett, Schneider, and Whitver. One subcommittee meeting has been held.

HSB 25 For A study bill relating to the authority of cities to regulate and restrict the occupancy of residential rental property.  Passed subcommittee. (See Cmte. Bill HF 161)

HSB 31 Against A study bill relating to commission of a criminal offense involving a victim fifteen years of age or younger, and providing penalties. Passed subcommittee.

SSB 1011 Against A study bill for an act relating to kidnapping of a minor, and providing penalties. Subcommittee recommends amendment and passage.

HSB 33 Against A study bill relating to strip searches of persons housed at a jail or municipal holding facility. Passed subcommittee with amendment. The amendment may be cause for JRC to change its declaration from Against to Undecided.

These are just a few of the bills on which we have been lobbying. There are several more, but the ones mentioned above are of particular interest.

If you would like an explanation of why we oppose or support a particular bill or legislation, contact us at info@iowappa.com and we will respond as soon as possible. We may include your concerns in the next newsletter, also.

NAACP Conducts Its First “Day On The Hill”

The Iowa-Nebraska Chapter of the NAACP held its inaugural “Iowa Day on the Hill” last Wednesday, Feb. 4th. The day included a training session, a press conference, meetings with legislators and an evening reception.

The Iowa NAACP has a list of issues it would like to see addressed in 2015. Among a few of those matters are the elimination of racial profiling; the restoration of juvenile records privacy; increasing employment opportunities, including “Ban The Box” policies; the strengthening the use of minority impact statements.

Justice Reform Consortium welcomes the NAACP to the Capitol, and as a member organization of JRC!

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]

Coverage of Horrific Crimes Needs to Change

By Jon Schiefer

Charles Manson, John Wilkes Booth, Bill Gates, Martin Luther King. These are names we all know, but for very different reasons. Some did great things, some did terrible things, but we know them all the same. Why do we have the same recognition for these individuals no matter their actions?

What if the “bad ones” never received the chance to be widely known? Would that be so bad? Should we care who it was that did some horrendous act? I think a lot the “bad ones” want to go down in a blaze of glory. They want to go down in history as though they deserve their fame. For me, I wonder how many of these people did what they did to finally get acknowledged and be noticed. Being infamous is as good as being famous and I think the media feels the same way.

Ever since the Columbine shootings in 1999, I have been watching as other guys scream for attention in the same way. We had the Virginia Tech shooter shortly after Columbine. More recently there were the theater shootings in Colorado and the elementary school deaths in Connecticut. As you might notice, I failed to mention the name of any of the shooters and that is my point. I even somewhat regret mentioning the events at all. I don’t think it is right to show the people who commit these horrible acts to the world. Why should we give them what they want? The media plasters their names and faces for a while until the next BIG NEWS pops up. Many times, old events are even recapped when a new event occurs. I was amazed and disgusted at all the faces of past shooters shown during coverage of the Connecticut tragedy. I understand our public need to know some details about who the person was, but what is so important about their name or face? Is there something about the way they look, or the name their parents gave them that gives us a clue about why they did what they did?   I don’t think so. In fact, I believe if the media kept their faces and names out of the public, some of these guys would feel less like acting.

I am not the only one who thinks this way. Dr. Park Deitz, a forensic psychiatrist and president of the California-based Treatment Assessment Group, said the following: “It’s the same old broken formula that spurs more crimes. That is a sensationalized accounting of what’s occurred, arousing the emotions of the audience in various ways, not just sadness, and a portrayal of the shooter as larger than life in a way that incentivizes some of the vulnerable people in the audience to become just like him. “ During the past two decades, Deitz has been admonishing the media to avoid publicizing mass murderer’s names or the vivid details of the acts in the same way many news outlets decline to report on suicides. Deitz contends that mass murder, like some suicides, has become a copycat tragedy among the minds of those predisposed to such acts of violence. He recalled a conversation he had with John Hinkley, Jr., the would-be assassin who shot President Ronald Reagan as a way to draw the attention and affection of actress Jodie Foster. “In an interview I had with him, he told me that he debated for months, ‘Should I do a mass murder?’ Should I do a skyjacking? Should I do a murder-suicide with Jodie Foster? Should I do an assassination? Which one is more likely to get me on the cover of Time magazine?”, Deitz reported.

It is obvious that the media can never stop telling the news, but why not change its approach to violent mass attacks? Refer to the accused as SHOOTER X and use a generic silhouetted face. Maybe the media, or we that feed them should consider this question: Do we need to know so much, or do we need more understanding of how to curb the problem?

Selected links:

 

Ex-Inmate on Connecticut Parole Board Brings an Insider’s View to Hearings: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/20/nyregion/ex-inmate-on-connecticut-parole-board-brings-an-insiders-view-to-hearings.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0 ALISON LEIGH COWAN New York Times. DEC. 19, 2014

Volunteers Needed

Mentoring Program- the DOC has approved volunteers to be part of the mentoring program while they are an active volunteer at ICIW.

Getting out of prison is only the first step for an incarcerated woman and staying out of prison can be tough. The Mentoring Program can help by strengthening a woman’s existing support system or by creating one where none existed. The Iowa Correctional Institution for Women (ICIW) and the Fifth Judicial District have partnered in order to train local volunteers as Mentors and to match them with interested women who are releasing to the Des Moines area.

Why would I want to be a Mentor? What would I do?

Over 90% of the women incarcerated in Iowa will be released at some point in time and will return to the community. They will live in your town and they will be your neighbors. They will interact with you and your family without your even knowing who they are. Most of these women want to follow the law and stay out of prison, but without the support of people like you, it can be very difficult.

As a Mentor, you will be there to listen to them and help them stay focused on the big picture. You will help them to problem-solve and to think about the choices they make. You and your Mentee will stay in weekly contact and discuss things like their goals and coping with stress, as well as very practical things like how to dress for an upcoming interview or how to commute to work. You will be a person with whom they can discuss whatever is happening in their life.

What makes someone qualified to be a Mentor?

Mentors go through a screening process including training with both the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women and the Fifth Judicial District, the Concerned Persons Group, the Mentor Application and a Preferences Questionnaire. They make a commitment of at least one year in the program and have opportunities for ongoing training.

How do I get involved?

Contact ICIW Reentry Coordinator Kathy Culbertson to start the process.

Email: Kathy.culbertson@iowa.gov or phone #515-.725-5094

Guitar instructor-

Music is one of the best forms of therapy! ICIW is looking for 1-2 volunteers to provide weekly lessons to 10 offenders for at least 1 hour per week. The institution has purchased guitars and the women are ready to learn! If interested, please contact Samantha to discuss further details. This is a new program and the weekly time could be any time the volunteer is available between 8:00am and 8:00pm.

Religious Library Clerk-

Evening and weekend times are needed for volunteers to supervise the religious library. Some offenders work off grounds, or work jobs that prevent that from checking out materials in the religious library during day time hours.

Have you made a contribution to help JRC, lately? If so, 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

 

Advocacy Day

When Tuesday, February 17, 2015 8:45 AM to Tuesday, February 17, 2015 2:00 PM
Where Wesley United Methodist Church
800 East 12th Street
Des Moines, IA
Phone 515-979-5775
Email briancar@dwx.com
Contact Rev. Brian Carter

Being Transformed to Make a Difference in the Halls of Government.

 

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 East 12th 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., 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/

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