July 20, 2016 JRC Newsletter

Vol. 6 #11 July 20, 2015

Hail, Or Hell. The Gang’s All Here

The New York Times Magazine featured an article around the life of a former gang member and addict, Dr. Jesse De La Cruz, who currently serves as an expert witness in some California jury trials. His testimony has convinced juries on some occasions that a person is not a gang member. That’s not to say that the defendant was not convicted of a crime; it’s just that he wasn’t convicted of being a gang member.

How Do You Define a Gang Member? http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/31/magazine/how-do-you-define-a-gang-member.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0 The New York Times Magazine.  DANIEL ALARCÓN. May 27, 2015. The article is an eye-opener for those who think they can spot a gang member a mile away.

All fifty states and the District of Columbia have enacted some form of legislation in which a person can be charged with being a gang member or some related crime – such as state level RICO[1] laws.[2] Some larger cities have created ordinances as well, like Chicago. In Iowa, ““Criminal street gang” means any ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, having as one of its primary activities the commission of one or more criminal acts, which has an identifiable name or identifying sign or symbol, and whose members individually or collectively engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity.” It’s a class “D” felony for anyone to “actively [participate in] or [be] a member of a criminal street gang” or to be associated “with any criminal street gang.”

In State v. Walker, 506 NW 2d 430 (Iowa 1993), Iowa’s Supreme Court ruled that the Iowa statute, on its face, is constitutional. The statute, Iowa Code Chapter 723A, created in 1990 within Senate File 2413, a bill with a title longer than the content of many bills introduced in the Iowa General Assembly.

In Friday’s [July 10] Des Moines Register, a paragraph quotes Sergeant Jason Halifax of the Des Moines Police Department as he addresses the issue of downward trending homicides in Iowa’s largest city.

He said:

The overall drop in homicides is likely due to Iowa criminalizing gang participation in 1990 and the Des Moines force obtaining federal money to start a gang unit, he said.

Since then, it appears gang violence has cooled as members are less likely to flaunt their affiliation and risk being charged under that law, Halifax said.

Sgt. Halifax is speaking on a hunch. But he may be more accurate than you think. According to the Iowa Justice Data Warehouse [information provided by Steve Michael, Division Administrator of the Department of Human Rights – Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning], convictions of criminal gang participation grew from one in 1992, two years after enactment of the statute, to 22 in 1994, two years later. Convictions have dropped off over the past twenty years to average a little less than 8 per year.

A startling statistic is the number of persons convicted of “Gang Recruitment”. Since the act of recruitment was created in 1995, there have been 10 convictions. But the first conviction didn’t occur until 2006 – 10 years after the legislation was deemed necessary. In that year, there were a total of 3 convictions. The only other years with convictions of recruiting gang members were 2011 (4 convictions) and 2013 (3 convictions). All three years with a recruitment conviction also showed a decrease in convictions for gang membership in the previous year.

We searched for an appeal court challenge to Iowa Code section 723A.3 – Gang Recruitment[3], and could find nothing. The language of the law invites questions about vagueness, overbreadth, and Freedom of Speech and Association. However, case law in Florida, Texas and California has determined that similar statutes can hold up to constitutional challenges. In each case, the usual federal case law that addresses strict scrutiny of these constitutional matters was obviously missing. It was substituted with lesser known case law.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to sit in on a jury trial where a defendant was facing a charge of criminal gang participation, or gang recruitment? It would sure beat the dullness of a trial in which a corporate mogul was facing a charge for polluting our waterways or air.

Searching for Information?

The Iowa Legislative Services Agency – Fiscal Division – is a great source for information about the Iowa correctional system, the criminal justice system, and other related areas of importance to Justice Reform Consortium. The following is a list of available reports that have been produced by the division in the past month

Offender Management in the Iowa Prison System

Fiscal Update Newsletter

Department of Corrections (DOC) FY 2015 Reallocations

Offender Re-entry Task Force Meeting

Audit Report – Center for Behavioral Health

Attorney General’s Office Transfer

FY 2015 Corrections System Population and Staffing

State Auditor Report on Community-Based Corrections

Office of the State Public Defender FY 2015 Reallocations

Board of Corrections Meeting – July, 2015

State Audit Addendum Report – Sixth Judicial District Department

Selected links:

Push to End Prison Rapes Loses Earlier Momentum http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/us/push-to-end-prison-rapes-loses-earlier-momentum.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0 DEBORAH SONTAG The New York Times. MAY 12, 2015.

Against his better judgment http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2015/06/06/against-his-better-judgment/?tid=sm_tw Eli Saslow The Washington Post. JUNE 6, 2015.

When Bail Is Out of Defendant’s Reach, Other Costs Mount http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/11/us/when-bail-is-out-of-defendants-reach-other-costs-mount.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0 SHAILA DEWAN The New York Times. JUNE 10, 2015.

New York City to Relax Bail Requirements for Low-Level Offenders http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/09/nyregion/new-york-city-introduces-bail-reform-plan-for-low-level-offenders.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0 By RICK ROJAS The New York Times. JULY 8, 2015

You Just Got Out Of Prison. Now What? http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/19/magazine/you-just-got-out-of-prison-now-what.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0 JON MOOALLEM. The New York Times Magazine. .JULY 16, 2015


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Save the Date

Iowa Justice Summit 2015, August 28-29.

Summit Date and Location have been finalized.  The 2015 Iowa Summit on Justice and Disparities will be held August 28th and 29th at 1055 SW Prairie Trail Parkway, Ankeny IA, 50023 at the FFA Enrichment Center.

The summit will be a two day event this year, and will feature local and national leaders who are IMPLEMENTING change in the criminal justice system. Early bird registration is available now. View the flyer here.

If you missed the first two, be sure to mark your calendar for number three.

Stay tuned for further information.


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.


Right Next Door Conference: Beyond the Walls of Church and Neighbor

Please join us October 16th-17th 2015 at First UMC in Ankeny, IA for the Right Next Door conference!

Women at the Well, a United Methodist congregation inside the walls of the women’s prison in Mitchellville, Iowa, is partnering with Prison Congregations of America and the Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church to host a weekend of presentations and workshops designed to inspire, equip, and empower churches to connect with folks we might have missed.

The Right Next Door conference will include presentations by noted speakers, including our keynote speaker, Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking.

The conference will also include various workshops addressing prison ministry, advocacy, mental illness, domestic violence, addiction, how to reduce barriers in your home church, and more. For more information, a schedule of events, and to register, visit http://RightNextDoor2015.org.

Right Next Door conference (early bird registration through 7/15):    http://rightnextdoor2015.org

Upcoming workshop at Valley UMC:    http://www.leeschott.com/?page_id=58


The next Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners meeting is at noon on Tues., July 21st 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


In July it will be our pleasure to welcome Donald Wadleigh, Prison Club Committee Chair for District 19 of Toastmasters International.  He has been involved in Toastmasters since his College days, which is longer ago than what he wants to remember.  Most recently he has been active in District 19 which includes Iowa plus small parts of Nebraska and Illinois.

Don is retired from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  He retired as Chief of Project Operations for the Chicago District of the Corps.  Since that time he was involved in Disaster Recovery efforts for FEMA in Hurricane Katrina, the patriots Day storm in Maine and the 2008 Iowa floods.

Don became involved with Toastmaster Clubs in Prisons when he was Area Governor for the Davenport and Muscatine, Iowa vicinities and one of the clubs in his Area was tagged as “Suspended”.  Upon investigation he found that it had not met for two years and had no source of funding to pay members dues.  Working with other Toastmasters and the Prison Staff, the Hilltop was restarted and has gone on to become one of the strongest Prison Toastmasters Club and indeed one of the strongest in District 19.

He is currently working with the ICIW staff and local Toastmaster Clubs in the east Des Moines and Newton areas to form a Toastmaster Club there in Mitchellville.  Don’s program would include answering these questions:

  •  What goes on in a typical Toastmaster meeting
  • What goes on in a typical Prison Toastmaster meeting
  • What options are available for organizing a club
  • How Toastmasters can fit into and augment a re-entry program
  • Some success stories.

We look forward to hearing Donald’s presentation.

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

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[1] racketeer influenced and corrupt organizations (RICO).

[2] 18 U.S. Code § 521 was part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. It defines criminal street gang and provides penalties.

[3] 1. A person who solicits, recruits, entices, or intimidates a minor to join a criminal street gang commits a class “C” felony.

  1. A person who conspires to solicit, recruit, entice, or intimidate a minor to join a criminal street gang commits a class “D” felony.