March 11, 2018 Newsletter

Vol. 9 #4 March 11, 2018

 Do as I Say

The Justice System Appropriations Subcommittee was late starting on February 28th because Iowa Senate Democrats were holding a caucus meeting in Room 24, while their Republican counterparts were down the hall in Room 22.  These closed governmental meetings called caucuses are where legislative decisions are made.  Regular committee and subcommittee meetings are scheduled and held to publicly perform caucus conclusions.  The House Chamber follows this same system.  The Iowa legislature passes laws that require political subdivisions, like cities, counties, and school boards, to conduct business in the open through a thick series of laws addressing open meetings and public records.  It doesn’t have to lead by example.

The caucus isn’t just for decision making, it serves as a support group for frustrated legislators to air their disappointments, and it also can serve as a delay tactic for passing controversial legislative bills both at the committee level and prior to debate in the chamber.  The consequence of this deeply engrained system is losing sight of representing the needs of the constituents.  The needs of the caucus have usurped the needs of the constituents.

One poor constituent visited the Iowa Capitol a few years ago to observe a Senate Judiciary meeting, not aware of the dramatic difference between legislative branch meetings and other governmental meetings operating in the open.  She was so excited to watch her government at work.  When the legislators scampered off to caucus, she turned to me deeply confused.  Fifty minutes later, they returned and voted out of committee a number of legislative bills with no meaningful discussion.  Watching this woman go from pumped up enthusiasm to utter and complete deflation continues to haunt me.

The “do as I say, not as I do” theory isn’t restricted to the legislative branch of government. When Jerry Bartruff, director for the Department of Corrections (DOC), marched into the Justice Systems Appropriations meeting with the usual entourage of correctional upper management in tow, he was PowerPoint presentation prepared for maintaining the myth that “everything is rosy” in the land of corrections.  The “do as I say” message from the governor’s office is very clear.  Don’t deviate from the proposed budget.  The DOC has had its budget slashed by millions, resulting in public safety concerns.

Although Bartruff dutifully fulfilled the executive branch’s decree, even miming the newest buzz words “data driven” decision making, the presentation became an excellent example of how data can be crafted to paint various pictures, depending on the argument.

His comments encompassed a number of issues:

  • DOC conducted a staffing analysis and now are getting rid of staff that wasn’t important. He coined the term “evidence-based staff”, meaning getting the right people by evaluating each for specific competencies and attributes.
  • The Department is shifting beds and staffing and also looks toward shifting classifications.
  • 73% of the funding goes to prisons—DOC wants to shift money to community-based-corrections.
  • Iowa’s violent crime rate is on a slow but steady rise. FBI data shows a rise in violent crime in rural areas, while going down in metro areas.
  • The 3 million-dollar grant for recidivism reduction was used for staff training.
  • An increase in use of tele psychiatry and tele medicine is a financial plus for the correctional budget.
  • The prison population is aging. As the age of the inmate goes up, so do the medical costs.
  • Focusing resources on recidivism reduction. Risk evaluation tied to needs.
  • The DOC toolkit is well-stocked with data-driven tools such as:

Validated Risk Assessment

Risk proficiency

Gap analysis/ cost-benefit programs

Staffing analysis and workload studies

Reclassified prisons for optimal outcomes

Evidence-based job descriptions

Despite the attempt to portray a well-organized strategy, a number of subcommittee members weren’t buying into the vast amount of jargon and gently questioned him on the data.

Rep. Gary Wortham (R-Storm Lake), Co-chair, requested that slide 13 break out the numbers to show the correctional staff that has direct contact with the offenders.

Sen. Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) stated that he was deeply concerned.  Crime is up and recidivism is up.  Five hundred people a year are returning to the system. He feels that the reduction in staff is related to the recidivism.  “Why are we seeing an increase in correctional officers being attacked?”  He wants the data in the presentation scaled accurately denoting the 18.7% reduction in correctional officers and the 4% inmate reduction.  If “this legislature doesn’t fund them, this legislature is responsible for the victims in crime.”

Sen. Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa), Co-chair, wanted to know why the DOC chose the specific states on slide 4 representing how Iowa was safer in comparison to “our neighbors’”incarceration rates (Missouri, South Dakota, Indiana, Illinois and Kansas).  Why not Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska?

Rep. Marti Anderson (D-Des Moines) stated that “data helps to direct us, but there’s a human factor” and she’s very concerned about recidivism.

Sen. Julian Garrett (R-Indianola) felt that recidivism going up made sense.  More people are being paroled, so wouldn’t you expect recidivism to also go up?

Rep. Wes Breckenridge (D-Newton) the House ranking member, is worried about the funding being taken away with the staff assaults.

Sen. Robert Dvorsky (D-Coralville), the Senate ranking member, ended the question and comment part of the presentation by relating what a great job the DOC is doing.  He had heard that Bartruff was going to retire.

The meeting ended on a positive note and the budgetary discussions will take place, behind closed doors, of course.

 Rolling Logs

The Iowa Legislature has a process of eliminating certain bills from the in-box so that it can move on to more important issues, like the budget.  It’s called the funnel, and there are two of them.  The 2nd funnel occurs at the end of this week.  With several exceptions, a policy bill that fails to pass out of a committee in both chambers is ineligible for debate on the floor for the rest of the session.  As we mention often: A bill may become ineligible, but an issue NEVER dies!

A few bills that are of interest to Justice Reform Consortium and are theoretically alive as of this date:

House File 2395 – An Act relating to the criminal elements and penalties for the commission of sexual misconduct with offenders and juveniles and including effective date provisions.  This bill was requested by JRC.  It passed out of the House Public Safety Committee on Thursday, Feb. 15.  This bill must pass the House and survive passage from a subcommittee and standing committee in the Senate before Friday in order to stay alive.  JRC SUPPORTS this legislation.  In the recent issue, we reported that this bill had been amended prior to passing out of committee.  That information was incorrect.  See our disclaimer below. HF 2394 – An Act relating to criminal acts committed on or against critical infrastructure property and providing penalties.  JRC OPPOSES.  This bill provides for a class “B” felony and a fine of $85,000 to 100,000 for “critical infrastructure sabotage”.  JRC has expressed concerns that the fine could be considered an “excessive fine” in certain circumstances and violative of the Eighth Amendment[1].

“Critical infrastructure sabotage” means any unauthorized act that is intended to cause a substantial interruption or impairment of service rendered to the public relating to critical infrastructure property. However, “critical infrastructure sabotage” does not include an accidental interruption or impairment of service rendered to the public caused by a person in the performance of the person’s work duties.”

What do you think?  Does this language include a Labor strike?  A possible protest protected by the First Amendment?  Someone running into an electric pole that knocks out power for a large portion of a city?  We consider the language vague and overbroad.

See also Senate File 2235.  Both HF 2394 and SF 2235 are funnel-proof.  That means that the issue (either bill) is eligible for debate in its respective chamber until the very last day of the session.

Senate File 2382 is an Act modifying criminal code provisions relating to criminal records, penalties, prosecutions, appeals, driving privileges, and postconviction relief, and including effective date provisions.  We wrote about this in the last issue of the JRC Newsletter.  To our surprise, this bill passed easily out of the Iowa Senate with very little opposition or amendments.  JRC strongly OPPOSES this bill.  Please thank Senators Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids) and Rich Taylor (D-Mount Pleasant) for having the courage to oppose this ogre of a bill.  JRC believe this bill includes the constitutionally-prohibited act of logrolling.

House Joint Resolution 2010 and Senate Joint Resolution 2010:  These two pieces of legislation would start the process of amending the Iowa Constitution to include a victims’ rights amendment.  Called Marsy’s Law, JRC OPPOSES this measure.

SF 2280, formerly SSB 1177 – An Act relating to law enforcement profiling by standardizing collection and centralizing the compilation and reporting of officer stop and compliant data, providing for officer training, creating a community policing advisory board, providing for penalties and remedies, and including effective date provisions.  Anti-Racial profiling.  This bill made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee without amendments and is eligible for debate in the Senate soon.  Please contact your state senator and urge your senator to support this bill.  JRC proudly SUPPORTS this bill.

SF 2117.  An Act relating to public funding and regulatory matters and making, reducing, transferring, and supplementing appropriations for expenditures in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2017, and including effective date provisions.  JRC is not declared on this bill.  It is a bill of interest, however, in that it cuts $3,405,688 from the Department of Corrections budget from now through the 30th of June.  Other than the Regents and the Dept. of Human Services, this is the biggest cut out of the budget.  For comparison, The Economic Development Authority is cut a paltry $132,000.

This list could be bigger, but it’s best to keep it manageable.  Let us know if there is a bill that interests you.  We’ll do what we can to incorporate it into future reports.******************************************

CORRECTION:  In the February 18 issue of the JRC Newsletter, we reported that HF 2266 – An Act relating to the restoration of the rights of citizenship, and providing for a contingent effective date, failed to pass the Legislature’s 1st funnel deadline.  That is incorrect, and we thank Rep. Mary Wolfe (D-Clinton) for bringing to our attention.  HF 2266 did pass out of the Judiciary Committee and has been renumbered as HF 2429.  However, it was amended to provide for an interim study committee on the matter.  JRC remains in SUPPORT of this bill.

If you spot incorrect information, please let us know.  We strive to produce an accurate account of legislative activity in Iowa as it pertains to criminal justice.  We may make a mistake from time to time, but we admit our infallibility and work to give you a newsletter that we hope will inform you on issues not covered by mainstream media or other outlets.

[1] Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted

August/September Newsletter

Vol. 5 #11 September 9, 2014

IDOC Phone Rates

Here in Iowa, the Office of the Ombudsman has expressed concern regarding the proposed phones rates being put forward by the Iowa Department of Corrections. Members of the Ombudsman’s staff attended the July 11 meeting of the Iowa Department of Corrections and presented a number of documents in support of their concerns. In a cover letter, they expressed concern about telephone rates that are charged to offenders above and beyond the cost of providing the service, and being used to pay salaries and benefits with telephone fees.

It should be noted that, although Board meetings are open to the public, until recently the public could not comment without getting prior approval from the chairperson. We were able to convince the IDOC staff that there should be a time for public comment. This has been added at the very end of the Board agenda. This means that the public cannot give input until after the Board has made their decisions.

On August 8, the Iowa Board of Corrections held the first of their budget meetings. Ruth Cooperrider, who is the State Ombudsman, asked that she be allowed to speak before the introduction of two action items regarding the phone rates. She was given permission to do so. She presented a one-page handout which outlined the information about the current phone rates, a proposal made at the July meeting of the Board, and the DOC Proposal now being presented for approval by the Board. This is as follows:

“$3.15 flat rate for all calls, (including international) from 1 to 20 minutes in length.”

The recommendation by the Ombudsman’s Office is that rates be just, reasonable, and fair, and that they consider the framework created by the FCC, including the implementation of a cost-based system. Under the DOC proposal, the cost of a local call would go from $2.00 to $3.15. This would have a significant impact on prisoners and their families as local calls account for 58% of offender minutes. After many years of urging the Department to reduce phone rates, families took matters into their own hands and began to buy cell phones and get a local phone number in the area where their family member was incarcerated. Thus, a call to their loved one is only $2. The IDOC has been quite angry about this development, as this had a significant impact on the profits on phone calls.

The second item being presented by the DOC for approval by the board is “Telephone Rebate Expenditures for FY 2015”. The total amount of “rebates”, or profits from the phone system is $413,813. This includes an expenditure of $350,000 for Education Funding, $62,813, and $1000 for Translation Services.

For many years, Iowa CURE and International CURE have recommended a revenue-neutral phone system. We do not understand why the prisoners and families and friends who use the inmate telephone system should pay for the cost of education services for prisoners, or why they should pay the cost of operating the system.

The two action items were presented to the Board for approval and they voted to table both items until they could get more information.

Director Baldwin appeared to be very angry and expressed that by saying that 5 or 6 times staff from the Ombudsman’s office have come to IDOC meetings, passed out information to the board, which has not been reviewed by the department and asked to speak. He stated that they do try to give opportunities for family connections with their loved ones in prison and gave the “O” mail system as an example. Fred Scaletta, Deputy Warden for Public Relations, spoke of the requirement that all revenues must be used to benefit prisoners as justification for the rates. He also noted that a number of organizations are appealing the ruling by the Federal Communication Commission.

From notes taken at Board meeting by Jean Basinger, President of Iowa CURE

Incarcerated in Iowa

The University of Iowa and Iowa Department of Corrections paired up last Saturday (Sept. 6th) in Iowa City to conduct a symposium on being “Incarcerated in Iowa” at the University Conference Center (in Old Capitol Mall). Please visit the website at your convenience to catch the recorded morning events as soon as they are posted.

A reported account of the day’s activities can be found in the Monday edition of The Daily Iowan (see links below).

Selected links: UI Prison Projects Coalition stages symposium. McAndrew, Mitch. The Daily Iowan. SEPTEMBER 8, 2014. Nuns have deep pockets? An Invisible Cloak of Love. Martin, Lisa. Congregation of the Humility of Mary. AUGUST 22, 2014. California Revises Policy on Mentally Ill Inmates. Goode, Erica. New York Times. AUGUST 12, 2014. NSA search engine ICREACH passes a staggering amount of data to domestic law enforcement. ICReach.

Please help us with a generous contribution. 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_______________


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., September 15th 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.


Developing Brain,

Developing Accountability:

Using Science to Direct Our Policy and Practice for Educating, Disciplining and Growing Our Children into Accountable Adults

September 29, 2014

Registration begins: 8:00 a.m. Conference concludes: 3:30 p.m.

The conference will be moving to the Community Choice Ballroom in the Iowa Events Center on the same date and time – Monday, September 29 from 9 am – 3:30 pm.

Iowa Events Center (Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center)

730 Third Street

Ballroom B – 4th level of Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center

Des Moines, IA 50309

Parking is available north of the Iowa Events Center with entrances off the following streets: Third, Fifth and Crocker. Iowa Events Center surface lots offer the closest and most convenient access to the facility, and easy access to I-235 and other major routes after the event. ADA accessible parking is available at the Iowa Events Center by entering the lot south of Crocker Street, next to Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center. The cost is $7. A map, directions, and information regarding parking can be found here.

The Brain Science is Clear

The youth brain is uniquely different than that of an adult. That reality has profound implications for how we educate, discipline and nurture our children in our schools, justice system and our community.

This conference will feature a series of brief, dynamic and interactive presentations from some of the leading experts in the field on this important topic. Learn what’s happening locally and, most important, learn what you can do to create a safe community where every child counts!

For more information, contact: Des Moines University, CME Lana Herteen, Blank Children’s Hospital (515) 271-1596 (515) 241-6726

To Register: Fee: $20; students free. Lunch provided. CEUs/CMEs pending.


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.

This newsletter published by:
Fawkes-Lee & Ryan, Public Policy Advocates

Copyright © 2014. You may copy, download and print the information in this newsletter provided you do so in an unaltered manner, with full copyright acknowledgement and website link. This newsletter may also be found online in PDF format at: and at:

Distributing this newsletter, or any part thereof, for commercial use is prohibited.


Phoney Profits

The Iowa Department of Corrections has a long history of charging excessive amounts for inmate phone calls which have resulted in huge profits at the expense of inmates and their families.

For a number of years the spokesperson for the department, Fred Scaletta, has told us that the Department is working on a new contact that will lower the rates. It never happens. In addition to this, the current service is very poor. Many of the phones are located outside, making it impossible for prisoners to make calls during bad weather. There are often interruptions in calls and this means that the caller is charged an additional fee to call back. For many years all calls were collect with the rates very high. Collecting the fees from families, who are often low income, was not always easy. The Department switched to prepaid calls. This means that they are able to collect the fees at the time a call is made with no loss. When the switch was made to prepaid calls the charges went UP. Collect calls were also eliminated so if prisoners don’t have money in their accounts they can’t make calls.

For many years the Iowa Chapter of Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants has participated in a national campaign for affordable phone charges. In a growing number of states, such as our neighbors, Nebraska and Michigan rates are now revenue neutral. This means that the charge is only what it costs to operate the system.

We now have a unique opportunity to participate in a campaign to give input to the Federal Communication Commission regarding excessive inmate phone charges. They are officially proposing new rules which would lower the interstate phone rate for prisoners.

WE are being asked by The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, Media Action Grassroots Network, Prison Legal News and a number of other human rights and justice organizations to encourage our members to submit letters to the FCC by March 25!

In order for your letter to be accepted you need to include 3 things:

Rulemaking number (12-375),

Your name and address, your views on the subject

Comments through the U.S. Postal Service should be mailed to:


Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary,

Federal Communications, Commission,

Office of the Secretary,

445 12th St. SW

Room TW-B204,

Washington, D.C. 20554

Comments cannot be e-mailed.

Sample Letter:



FCC Proceeding: 12-375


Commissioners and Staff,


(Insert your reasons for feeling that inmate phone charges are excessive. Include personal experiences it you have had them.)


Closing: “You have the authority to help families of inmates by lowering the amount per minute the companies are able to charge, and a choice in services so maybe that will bring the fees down. Thank you for looking into this matter.”


(Your Name)

I have much more information which I can send you, but I have trying to give you the basics and I hope that you will respond on behalf of your organizations and individually as well. We hope that changes in the rules regarding interstate calls will also affect the cost of local and calls made within the states.

Thank you; please act so that your letter is received by March 25!!!

Jean Basinger, President of Iowa CURE and Chairperson, Steering Committee, Justice Reform Consortium