1st JRC Newsletter of 2018

Vol. 9 #1 January 22, 2018

The Pen Is Mightier Than the Sword

Last year, a Senate Subcommittee met to discuss Senate File 88, an “act relating to the use of a simulated firearm or simulated explosive when committing a robbery, the criminal offense of intimidation, or other crimes, and providing penalties.”  It didn’t go anywhere.  The bill was brought forward by the Iowa County Attorneys Association since robberies with a simulated gun have the same traumatic effect on a victim as does a real gun.

This year, a bill similar to SF 88 Senate Study Bill 3006 has been introduced and a subcommittee has met to discuss its merits.  SSB 3006 moves the involvement of “simulated firearm” from the robbery section of the Code to the definition section of the criminal Code. This broad sweep of what constitutes a “simulated” firearm is ill-advised for the following reasons and continues to carry grave concerns about the potential effect of enactment.

A “simulated firearm” cannot be listed as a dangerous weapon because it is NOT a dangerous weapon.  The definition of dangerous weapon is

any instrument or device designed primarily for use in inflicting death or injury upon a human being or animal, and which is capable of inflicting death upon a human being when used in the manner for which it was designed [and includes] any instrument or device of any sort whatsoever which is actually used in such a manner as to indicate that the defendant intends to inflict death or serious injury upon the other, and which, when so used, is capable of inflicting death upon a human being.

Iowa Code section 702.7 (2017)(Emphasis added.)

“The pen is mightier than the sword,” but you can’t list the pen as a dangerous weapon.  Actually, you can.  A pen, along with a simulated firearm, are already included in the definition of “Dangerous Weapon”.

Additionally, any instrument or device of any sort whatsoever which is actually used in such a manner as to indicate that the defendant intends to inflict death or serious injury upon the other, and which, when so used, is capable of inflicting death upon a human being, is a dangerous weapon.

Iowa Code section 702.7 (2017)(Emphasis added.)

Perhaps it’s a stretch to think that a pen or a simulated gun “is capable of inflicting death upon a human being”, but it’s not impossible.  Federal case law acknowledges that an unworkable gun or an unloaded gun is a dangerous weapon (“a gun can cause harm when used as a bludgeon”), even though the Code definition does not necessarily include those devices. U.S. v. York, 830 F.2d 885, 891 (8th Cir. 1987).  There is no need to expand the definition to cover every device.  A vague definition of a simulated firearm is broad enough to cover an incident in which a person uses an exposed index finger with the thumb pointing up.  It will include a paint gun, some cigarette lighters designed to look like pistols, and a water (squirt) gun.

From a practical point, if committing a crime with a real firearm or a simulated firearm carries the same penalty, why would a perpetrator settle for the simulated weapon?

The impact on our criminal justice system, particularly the potential increase in our prison population and future workloads of community-based corrections could be pushed beyond manageable limits.  The fiscal impact statement on SF 88 contains a significant minority impact. SSB 3006 possibly could have an exacerbated impact on minorities.

Those who use simulated devices are already being convicted of offenses that carry significant sentences (i.e. State v. Tate, 885 NW2d. 220 (IA Ct. App. 2016)(Defendant was sentenced to 10 years for 2nd degree robbery when the jury found no gun was used, although defendant had lifted his shirt to imply he had a weapon.))

We oppose the bill on the arguments mentioned above, but we are in the process of developing some language that we intend to offer as an alternative.  We understand the trauma a person experiences when being held up, whether the perpetrator has a weapon or not.  Our solution will be to offer counseling to those affected by the incident.

 Death Penalty Legislation

A bill to bring back the death penalty was introduced Thursday in the Iowa Senate. Senate Study Bill 3042 would allow the penalty of death for the first-degree murder of a peace officer. Justice Reform Consortium strongly opposes capital punishment.  See the NOTICE below about Iowans Against the Death Penalty General Membership meeting on Feb. 8th.

 Lifetime Registration

House File 163 is a bill that establishes a new tier of sex offender registration.  Essentially, it will require every sex offender to register for life.  Under the bill’s provisions, if a sex offender is not currently on a lifetime registration, the sex offender is required to continue a limited registration upon completion of the offender’s requirements.  The new requirement would have all sex offenders, even those that have completed their registration and other requirements, including those moving into Iowa from another state, to register with the sheriff.  The registration would not be accessible to the public.  Justice Reform Consortium believes this is more punitive than remedial, and therefore will not be able to stand up to a constitutional challenge.

The most recent authority on this matter is the United States Supreme Court decision of Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84 (2003), written almost 15 years ago.  The Court held that Alaska’s sex offender registry was not punitive, and therefore did not violate the Constitution’s Ex Post Facto clause.

However, things have changed.

“If the intention of the legislature was to impose punishment, that ends the inquiry [and the registry is unconstitutional]. If, however, the intention was to enact a regulatory scheme that is civil and nonpunitive, we must further examine whether the statutory scheme is “`so punitive either in purpose or effect as to negate [the State’s] intention’ to deem it `civil.'” Ibid. (quoting United States v. Ward, 448 U. S. 242, 248-249 (1980)).” Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84, 92 (2003).  Creating a new tier of offenders who must register is punitive, especially considering that new facts have been discovered in the past decade and a half.

“The [Alaska] [L]egislature found that “sex offenders pose a high risk of reoffending,” and identified “protecting the public from sex offenders” as the “primary governmental interest” of the law. 1994 Alaska Sess. Laws ch. 41, § 1.”  Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84, 93 (2003).  That statement is no longer true.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has found that a mere 5 percent of sex offenders are rearrested for another sex crime within 3 years of being released from prison.  https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/rsorp94pr.cfm   Five percent is hardly a “high risk”.  A challenge to this scheme today could invite the temptation of the Supreme Court to overturn the decision in Smith.  At the time of Smith, very little was known about the recidivism rates of sex offenders.  Justice Kennedy, who wrote the Smith v. Doe decision, had also written the Kansas v. Hendricks decision, which led to civil commitment laws, and based his information “on his own language from [the Hendricks decision]. It characterized the risk of a sex offender committing another sex crime as “frightening and high” — as high as 80 percent, Kennedy held.”  https://psmag.com/news/whats-the-real-rate-of-sex-crime-recidivism Sex offenders who have been committed under Hendricks are violent sexual predators and have a mental abnormality or defect.  Not every sex offender is a “sexually violent predator”; far from it.

It is the sexually violent predators in Iowa’s civil commitment unit in Cherokee that consist of the group of offenders in which Justice Kennedy referred, and not the bulk of sex offenders who must register under Iowa’s current registry system.  “So how close to the truth is Kennedy’s “frightening and high” assertion? “There’s no empirical evidence to support that statement, [] We have lots and lots of recidivism research over like 25 years … and all of the recidivism studies are remarkably consistent that the number of people re-arrested for a new sex crime is somewhere between 5 and 15 percent.””  Id.

If a Tier IV category is established through HF 163, the burden is on the state to defend the law’s intent that it remains a civil matter, rather than a matter that is punitive in nature.  If the state fails in its arguments, flood gates open to continuing litigation of constitutional questions, such as:  Ex post facto; cruel & unusual punishment, due process, and others.

JRC is watching closely the progress of this legislation.

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Life after Prison:  A New Guide for Iowans

Inside Out Reentry, with support from the Iowa Department of Corrections, is pleased to announce a new guide offering resources and services for those returning from incarceration.

  • WHAT:  A newly-created collaborative guide to reentry support resources across the state.  This database provides contacts to non-department of corrections resources facilitating return to the community. The guide includes: substance abuse services, housing options, mental health resources, AA/NA, support groups and much more.  The information has been made available at all nine Iowa correctional institutions (as of Dec. 15), in addition to the work release residential facilities.  It is posted online at:  http://www.insideoutreentry.com/ and will be updated every 6 months.

This guide was created by Inside Out Reentry Community with the help of Iowa correctional staff from several institutions.  We invite everyone to help us supplement this information to make our service directory complete.  Please contact us at:  insideoutreentry@gmail.com to add information or make corrections.

Inside Out Reentry Community is a non-profit organization based in Johnson County that provides comprehensive reentry support for those returning to our community after incarceration.  Inside Out opened its doors in January 2015 and assists returning citizens with employment, housing, connecting to services, peer support, mentoring, and more.

  • WHY:  The Iowa Department of Corrections estimates that 95% of current inmates will eventually be released to their communities. The moment of release represents a critical point in time that can make or break an individual’s successful reintegration into society.  Our communities are better off when the women and men leaving prison find success in moving forward.

The Council of State Governments in a 2005 study states that ‘ideally, an individual in prison has worked on cultivating relationships with community-based organizations and support systems as part of a larger reentry plan.”  By making these resources available before someone is released from prison, work release or jail, Iowa can foster connections with such organizations and support systems and thus, encourage successful reentry.

Besides making this database available in Iowa’s prisons and work release centers, we also hope to make this information available to anyone who needs support after serving time in jail.

  • WHO BENEFITS:  Anybody who is looking for support and assistance following incarceration. Family members and friends of those returning from incarceration.  (see testimonial below)

Contacts

Mike Cervantes  – Director of Inside Out Reentry Community  319-621-6263  insideoutreentry@gmail.com

Catrina Carter – Director of Reentry and Treatment Services for Iowa DOC    515-725-5713 (office)   515-314-2645 (cell)

Cord Overton – Communications Director for Iowa DOC   515-725-5707 (office)  cord.overton@iowa.gov

Testimonial:

Dec. 19, 2017

I wanted to express my gratitude to the staff and volunteers at Inside Out Reentry.  I am from Des Moines and with my mandatory on a drug offense expiring on Jan. 20, 2018, I was recently run up for parole.

While incarcerated, I have involved myself in many groups, activities and inmate council to prepare myself to transition smoothly and successfully into society and the work force.  All of these “inside” activities were beneficial for me, yet I was still lacking in community-based connections necessary for my release.  Housing was an especially difficult task for me to complete.  However, with your recent state-wide resource directory and guide, I was able to personally connect with the director of an organization in Des Moines who quickly accepted me into one of their houses.  It completed my parole plan and my parole was granted on the 14th of December.

This new guide is a great resource for men and women facing the challenges of release.  Thank you so much to Inside Out for sharing this resource with all the institutions across Iowa.

Tom Schilling

IMCC/Oakdale

 

UPCOMING EVENTS

Iowans Against the Death Penalty will hold a general membership meeting at Northwest Community of Christ Church, 3003 62nd Street in Des Moines (3 blocks west of Merle Hay Rd. on Urbandale Ave.) on Thursday, February 8th at 6:30 pm.

Senate Study Bill 3042 was introduced on Thursday, January 18th.  SSB 3042 is a bill for an act creating a capital murder offense by establishing the penalty of death for murder in the first degree of a peace officer.

SSB 3042 has been assigned to the subcommittee consisting of Senators Jason Schultz (R-Schleswig); Amy Sinclair (R- Allerton); and Rich Taylor (D- Mount Pleasant).  No subcommittee meetings have been scheduled at this time.

Pod cast of Wednesday’s discussion on WHO on the death penalty: Should Iowa Reinstate The Death Penalty? (Jeff Angelo-Hour 1-1/17) https://whoradio.iheart.com/featured/jeff-angelo-on-the-radio/content/2018-01-17-should-iowa-reinstate-the-death-penalty-jeff-angelo-hour-1-117/#.WmEU4KGJ4EE.email

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SAVE THE DATE!

IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT:  Mark your calendars for the evening of October 8th. The Iowa Coalition for Juvenile Justice (a focus group of Iowa CURE) is bringing Jeanne Bishop, author of the moving book, “Change of Heart, Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with my Sister’s Killer”.  (Tentative location is the court room of the Drake Law Center.)

Ms. Bishop’s sister, brother-in-law and their unborn child were brutally killed in their home 25 years ago.  In her book she tells of her journey confronting and finally reconciling with the man who took their lives.

Brian Stevenson, Director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of “Just Mercy” says,  “This is an extraordinary witness for survivors of crime and all of us who seek a more compassionate thoughtful and responsible way to manage the tragic ways we hurt each other”

You won’t want to miss this opportunity to hear Jeanne Bishop and her inspiring story of healing and peace.

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The January meeting of Iowa CURE will be held on January 28th (Sunday) at 2 p.m. at Trinity LA United Methodist Church (1548 8th Street)  Our legislative advocates: Marty Ryan and Stephanie Fawkes-Lee will be with us to give us an up to date rundown on what is happening during this legislative session and how we  can influence our legislators.  Please plan to attend

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/

Copyright © 2015. 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: http://justicereformconsortium.org/?page_id=19 and at: http://iowappa.com/?page_id=407