Justice Reform Consortium Newsletter 12-8-16

Vol. 7 #13 December 8, 2016

Death Penalty In Iowa?

Two decades ago, Iowa faced the possibility of reinstating capital punishment. It didn’t happen. 1995 was the height of the pendelum. New York reinstated the death penalty the same year it was defeated in Iowa. A year previous, Kansas had adopted the crime of capital murder.

Since the Iowa Legislature defeated House File 2 in 1995, several states have abolished the antiquated penalty in favor of life without the possibility of parole – Iowa’s default since 1964. A few other states have an haitus on executions because of court orders or moratoriums in place by governors.

On Tuesday, November 29, the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments in a case, Moore v. Texas, in which the defendant Moore is facing the death penalty in Texas three and one-half decades after being sentenced to death. However, the matter of whether 35 years between sentencing and execution violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment is not the argument the court will hear. You see, Moore is intelletually disabled – or is he? Texas says he is not.

Lawyers for inmate Bobby James Moore tell the justices that Moore failed first grade twice, but was still advanced to the next grade so that he wouldn’t be significantly older than the other students in his year. When he was 13, they add, he still “lacked basic understanding of the days of the week, the months of the year, the seasons, telling time, the standards of measure, and the principle that subtraction is the reverse of addition.” And, to make matters worse, Moore “also suffered a debilitating head injury during Texas’s schoolhouse integration battles”: He was “hit in the head with a chain and a brick as he tried to make his way to the bus.”

In 1980, when Moore was 20, he and two other men robbed a supermarket. One of the store’s employees was shot and killed during the robbery; Moore was convicted of the shooting and sentenced to death. Over 30 years later, Moore was again sentenced to death, but a state trial court determined, after a two-day hearing, that Moore is intellectually disabled and cannot be executed.

Posted in SCOTUSblog, November 22, 2016 – http://www.scotusblog.com/2016/11/argument-preview-court-returns-again-to-the-death-penalty-and-the-intellectually-disabled/#more-248775 Amy Howe Reporter and Independent Contractor

The legal question is whether “it violates the Eighth Amendment and this Court’s decisions in Hall v. Florida and Atkins v. Virginia to prohibit the use of current medical standards on intellectual disability, and require the use of outdated medical standards, in determining whether an individual may be executed.”

It should be embarrassing to all of us that Texas prosecutors believe that a man, who at the age of 13 could not tell the difference between seasons, has the mental capacity to understand the nature of his crimes, or the consequences therein.

Here’s the really strange part:

[T]he Texas Criminal Court of Appeals went with a fictional novel [Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck) over science and medicine to measure Bobby’s severe mental limitations. The justices heard a vast body of evidence demonstrating these limitations, which meet the widely accepted scientific standards for defining intellectual disability. Then they rejected it all according to seven wildly unscientific factors for measuring intellectual disability, drawn in large part from the fictional character Lennie Small. Bobby was no Lennie, they concluded, ruling that his disability wasn’t extreme enough to exempt him from the death penalty.

Salon Thursday, Apr 21, 2016.  Texas is using “Of Mice and Men” to justify executing this man. Seriously. Anna Arceneauxhttp://www.salon.com/2016/04/21/texas_is_using_of_mice_and_men_to_justify_executing_this_man_seriously/

During oral arguments on Tuesday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor “read a lengthy list of examples that she regarded as demonstrating Moore’s intellectual disability, including eating from garbage cans. Although Moore would get sick after doing so, she pointed out, he would then turn around and do it again – indicating that he could not learn from his mistakes.”  Amy Howe, Argument analysis: Texas inmate seems likely to prevail in death-row disability challenge, SCOTUSblog (Nov. 29, 2016, 1:59 PM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2016/11/argument-analysis-texas-inmate-seems-likely-to-prevail-in-death-row-disability-challenge/

Some people in Iowa would like to see Iowa adopt the death penalty for certain heinous crimes committed in this state.  Recently, Governor Terry E. Branstad has said that the death penalty is “not a panacea” for murder.  He’s right.  Capital punishment is complex.  Because of its complexity, the integrity of a state’s criminal justice system is at stake.  Iowans already know better than to attempt the execution of a mentally disabled person.  Or, at least, we hope Iowans know.

Iowa cannot afford capital punishment.  Iowans cannot afford its expense; Iowans cannot afford its discriminatory practice; Iowans cannot afford to execute an innocent person; Iowans cannot afford to execute a mentally disabled person. Iowa cannot afford the death penalty!

Join Justice Reform Consortium and Iowans Against the Death Penalty on Monday evening, December 12, in keeping Iowa one of 19 states without a statute allowing the use of capital punishment.



People should use the east door of the school building and will be directed from there.

JRC Annual Meeting

On October 23, 2016, organizations that make up Justice Reform Consortium attended the annual meeting at Valley Methodist Church in West Des Moines. Deb Theeler and Gordy Allen were honored by JRC for their work, not only over the past year, but for the years and years of dedicated service to those who are incarcerated and re-entrying society. After acknowledging Deb and Gordy, attendees were treated to this year’s speaker, Gary Dickey, a Des Moines attorney who drafted Executive Order #42 when he was Governor Vilsack’s legal counsel.

YouTube videos of the events can be found at:

Deb Theeler video – Click here

Gody Allen video – Click here

Gary Dickey address, Part I – Click here

Gary Dickey address, Part II – Click here

News from the Iowa Legislative Service Agency – Fiscal Division


On November 22, 2016, Governor Terry Branstad held a budget hearing for the Department of Corrections (DOC). DOC Director Jerry Bartruff presented the Department’s FY 2018 and FY 2019 funding requests, stating that the Department’s budget will remain at status quo at an appropriation level of $385.1 million.

Director Bartruff stressed the importance of lowering the recidivism rate in controlling costs. Apprenticeship programs within the prisons help to reduce recidivism by giving inmates employable job skills upon their release. The DOC is also trying to use resources more efficiently, and the move of sex offenders from the Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility to the Newton Correctional Facility is an example of that effort. Increasing medical and county confinement costs are two areas that were cited by Director Bartruff as concerns. A Lean project addressing county confinement costs was conducted, and changes in the processes for parole violation revocations are being enacted to decrease inefficiencies.

Governor Branstad inquired about the Iowa State Penitentiary (ISP) at Fort Madison. Director Bartruff stated that some of the problems they have experienced with the new facility were anticipated. The geothermal and ventilation issues are still being addressed, as are some operational issues. Critical incidents have decreased in the new facility, and the staff is accepting the direct supervision model. Discussions regarding how to utilize the old ISP facility are ongoing.

STAFF CONTACTS: Alice Wisner (515)281-6764 alice.wisner@legis.iowa.gov Laura Book (515)725-0509 laura.book@legis.iowa.gov

Selected links:

Mothers In Prison.  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/opinion/sunday/mothers-in-prison.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share By NICHOLAS KRISTOF NOV. 25, 2016. New York Times.

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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 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.

Voices to be Heard has formed also in Cedar Rapids.  Please contact:  Voices to be Heard, Voices.Heard@yahoo.com. Sue Hutchins, 252 S. 22nd St., Marion, IA 52302.

The next Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners meeting is at noon on Tues., December 20th 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.


PO Box 71272, Clive, IA  50325

email:  fiwp2011@gmail.com

website:  friendsofiowawomenprisoners.org

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; 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 – Des Moines & Cedar Rapids.

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