Justice Reform Consortium Newsletter December 16, 2015

Vol. 6 #13 December 16, 2015

On The Right Track

In Polk County, Iowa there is a group of officials that meet regularly throughout the year on issues dear to Justice Reform Consortium.  The Polk County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council was established over seven years ago “to review issues that will enhance cooperation and collaboration among all areas of the criminal justice system.”  The following is the makeup of the Council:

  • Polk County Board of Supervisors Chair
  • One member of the Polk County Board of Supervisors
  • Polk County Attorney
  • Chief Judge of the Fifth Judicial District
  • Director of the Iowa Department of Corrections (this position is represented by the 5th Judicial Department of Correctional Services – Community-based Corrections)
  • Public Defender
  • Polk County Sheriff
  • Suburban Police Chief Representative
  • Des Moines Police Officer
  • Chief Juvenile Court Officer
  • Mental Health Services Director

At the October 8 meeting, Polk County Supervisor Tom Hockensmith stated, “while sometimes the information discussed at the meetings may seem monotonous, and the reports don’t always change that much, the data is important to the Committee.  Prior to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council being formed, the data wasn’t gathered and discussed among the different entities of the criminal justice system.  With the data being shared, the Council is able to analyze certain trends, and discuss possible causes and solutions.”

From its webpage:  “The mission of the Polk County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) is to identify possible improvements in the criminal justice system; develop system-wide solutions; propose actions, execute strategies; and generally improve the criminal justice system.”

One huge result of the CJCC is the development of a 24/7 crisis center operated by Eyerly-Ball and funded by Polk County.   The Crisis Observation Center, located at 1420 Mulberry Street in Downtown Des Moines, has allowed law enforcement to bring people to the center that may have otherwise ended up in jail or the hospital emergency room, thereby saving thousands of taxpayer dollars.  But more importantly, it has provided a needed service to individuals suffering from mental health emergencies.  It should be noted that a person seeking emergency mental health care does not have to be brought to the center by law enforcement officials.  The center is open to any Polk County resident experiencing a mental health crisis.  The center “offers on-site assessment and works to stabilize the crisis through therapeutic interventions, crisis and safety planning, and referrals to appropriate agencies.”

Pretrial Release

Currently, the CJCC is researching the possibility of changing policy related to pre-trial release.  All throughout Iowa, during the initial appearance, the court sets bail or bond conditions based upon a Uniform Bond Schedule set up by the Iowa Supreme Court.  The process is almost automatic.  Because of it, there are people who spend time in jail only because they have no means of paying bail.

The inability to pay a bond agent (formerly called bail bondsmen) 10% to get released is not uncommon.  Basing pretrial release on stability and safety factors rather than on the ability to pay is a sensible solution to overcrowding, today’s version of debtors’ prisons, and will save money for taxpayers and defendants facing charges with limited resources.

We applaud Polk County for researching and considering this policy change.  It’s been proven to work in other states, especially Kentucky, which was the first state to initiate such a program.  The state of Kentucky has been using a successful pretrial release program since 1976.  A “study by the JFA Institute in Washington found that Kentucky has a high pretrial release rate of 74 percent, with low rates of rearrest and failure to appear in court among individuals who were granted pretrial release. The state’s rates are among the best reported by any criminal justice program in the nation, according to the non-profit Pretrial Justice Institute.”

JRC’s Legislative Agenda for 2016

Enhanced Penalties & New Crimes:  Prevent the passage of bills that enhance current criminal penalties and create new crimes without some sort of empirical evidence to demonstrate that the enhancement or creation of the law is the only alternative to addressing a criminal matter, and that all alternatives have been exhausted.

Video recording of custodial interviews:  In a 2006 opinion, State v. Hajtic, Iowa Supreme Court warned:  “We believe electronic recording, particularly videotaping, of custodial interrogations should be encouraged, and we take this opportunity to do so.”  Ten years later, there is no excuse for law enforcement officers to not record custodial interviews.

Ban the Box:  We support legislation that will eliminate the box on employment applications asking if the job applicant has ever: 1) been convicted of a crime; 2) been arrested; or 3) any other reference to the criminal justice system.  These questions should be asked only if there is a nexus between the job and the criminal act, and only after a bone fide offer of employment has been made contingent upon a background check.

Voting Rights for Ex-felons:  It’s time to bring Iowa into the 21st century and allow those convicted of “infamous crimes” to become a part of the community.  No one should be denied the fundamental right to vote.  See Selected Link Below:  Kentucky Governor Restores Voting Rights to Thousands of Felons

Sexual misconduct by a correctional officer or others:  The punishment for sexual misconduct committed by employees and agents of the department of corrections and judicial district departments of correctional services should be consistent with similar crimes.  Currently, the penalty for a conviction of this offense is an aggravated misdemeanor, while sexual abuse in the 3rd degree, which involves similar circumstances, is a class “C” felony.

Mandatory minimums: The Iowa Public Safety Advisory Board (PSAB) of the Criminal & Juvenile Justice Planning Commission (CJJP) has looked at proposing legislation that would eliminate mandatory minimums on certain drug offenses only.   We say: “It’s a start, but let’s go further!”

Funding for mental health & substance abuse programs: This is not a primary issue for JRC because the issue is more complicated than it appears.  JRC will support an increase in funding if the programs demonstrate long term success.

Supreme Court’s Translator/Interpreters Bill:  This is a holdover from three previous sessions.  It may not move, but we will be ready to help the courts if interest rises in the House.

Drug penalties:  The disparity between crack and powder cocaine; the continual addition of new substances to the list of schedules; and the enhancement of penalties or decrease in thresholds of current law are all parts of a broken system (The War on Drugs) that must come to a sensible conclusion.  JRC should monitor any movement to tinker with Chapter 124.

Selected links:

An Inmate Dies, and No One Is Punished http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/14/nyregion/clinton-correctional-facility-inmate-brutality.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0 MICHAEL WINERIP and MICHAEL SCHWIRTZ. The New York Times. DECEMBER 13, 2015.

Kentucky Governor Restores Voting Rights to Thousands of Felons http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/25/us/kentucky-governor-restores-voting-rights-to-thousands-of-felons.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0 ERIK ECKHOLM The New York Times. NOVEMBER 24, 2015.

Heroin, Survivor of War on Drugs, Returns With New Face http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/23/us/heroin-survivor-of-war-on-drugs-returns-with-new-face.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0 Retro Report CLYDE HABERMAN The New York Times. NOVEMBER 22, 2015.

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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 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., January 19th 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

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.

FRIENDS OF IOWA WOMEN PRISONERS

10/19/2015

Dear Friends,

I am writing to ask your support of the Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners’ Scholarship Program.  Since 2001, we have awarded 218 scholarships, making it possible for women to take college credit courses while still incarcerated.  We believe education is one of the keys to helping women succeed when they return to our communities, as 95% of them do.   Experiencing success in a college-level course while incarcerated can greatly enhance an offender’s belief in her ability to succeed in the classroom and increase the likelihood of her pursuing an education upon release, ultimately contributing to successful re-entry back into society.

Our scholarship recipients are offered college credit classes taught by instructors from the Des Moines Area Community College on-site at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women.  All of our first time college students take a course in Study Strategies.  In 2015, they were also offered classes in Western Civilization, African American Literature, and World Religions.  The women reported they loved the learning experience, found the classes interesting, and were proud of themselves for successfully completing (and receiving high marks in) courses that seemed very intimidating at the onset.

This fall we will be accepting applications from women at the ICIW who would like to receive a FIWP scholarship enabling them to take one of the classes offered in early 2016.  We ask that you consider a financial contribution in support of this cause.  Rather than paying a per student fee, an arrangement has been made to pay DMACC a flat fee for each 3-credit hour class, plus we buy books for each of our scholarship recipients.  The average cost is expected to be about $300 per student.

Tax deductible contributions can be made online through PayPal at our website www.FriendsOfIowaWomenPrisoners.org under the How to Help tab.  Contributions can also be made by sending a check payable to FIWP Scholarship Fund to:

Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners

P.O. Box 71272

Clive, IA  50325

With gratitude for your support.

Rosemary Jungmann, Treasurer

Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners

 

THE WOMEN OF THE INMATE ART PROJECT 

IOWA  CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION FOR WOMEN

PRESENTS

 

REFLECTIONS

paintings by the women of the Inmate Art Program

FRAME WORKS

 

5800 MERLE HAY ROAD *  JOHNSTON, IOWA

December 1, 2015 through December 31, 2015

Hours

Monday through Friday 10 am to 5:30 pm

Saturday 10 am to 4 p.m.

Please stop by and support the work of these artists!

Justice Reform Consortium member organizations: ACLU of Iowa; American Friends Service Committee; Beacon of Life; Compassion, Peace, and Justice Taskforce, Des Moines Presbytery; 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; Trinity United Methodist Church; Urban Dreams; and Voices to be Heard.