In 2016, Iowa actually acted on an issue concerning criminal justice reform and made a positive change. But in order for Iowa to be a leader when it comes to our criminal justice system, we must do more than dip our toes in the water. We should be continually working on progressive, forward-thinking policies that are just to all Iowans. Any criminal justice policy proposal should reduce recidivism and address Iowa's serious racial inequality problem.
The number one way to reduce recidivism is to focus on making our corrective facilities actually corrective. We should be rehabilitating offenders and implementing reforms that allow individuals to reenter society and contribute meaningfully. All Iowans win when we reduce recidivism because we avoid the wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars on prolonged and often counterproductive incarceration. A revolving door in and out of prison benefits no one.
We can reduce recidivism by increasing access to rehabilitative services and improving reentry programs. We also need to continue making progress toward returning discretion to judges instead of continuing to enforce outdated and destructive mandatory minimum sentencing requirements. Iowa's past efforts in expanding reentry services have demonstrated that, with adequate aid, recidivism rates decline and all Iowans benefit.
We also must continue to innovate in the area of juvenile justice to ensure a juvenile's arrest does not create a pipeline to prison. Our responses should be tailored to the unique circumstances of each child to ensure the best possible outcome for that child's future. Accordingly, we can start by eliminating mandates that preclude judges from assessing a child's unique circumstances, such as mandatory prosecution of certain offenses in adult court, and the "once an adult, always an adult" rule. Further, we can continue to expand specialty courts and services tailored to addressing juveniles' needs.
Addressing Iowa's Racial Inequality
Iowa ranks third among all states in incarcerating disproportionate numbers of African Americans. Iowa’s African Americans comprise 3% of the state population yet make up 26% of Iowa’s prison population. This is unacceptable and perpetuates discriminatory and downright racist practices. As a first step towards eliminating this appalling disparity, we must make implicit bias training for all those involved in the criminal justice system the highest priority. Further, we must increase our discourse with local police forces across the state to ensure the dialogue on eliminating race-based practices is ongoing.
Supporting Iowa's JudiciaL Branch
Having worked in Iowa’s district and appellate courts, I know firsthand the work our judiciary is doing for all Iowans. Chief Justice Cady’s continued warnings of insufficient resources highlights the threat of the next crisis in our state. The continued failure to fund the judiciary erodes the ability of the Judicial Branch to perform its essential duties for all the citizens of Iowa. Fair, speedy, and inexpensive dispute resolution in matters civil and criminal, familial or commercial, is essential to a peaceful and civilized society. When people lose faith in their judiciary's ability to prove timely and fair resolution of disputes, they turn to other methods of dispute resolution inconsistent with Iowan values, or the disputes linger unresolved. The lack of judicial funding is accompanied by real societal consequences, economic and human, immediate and continuing. For the welfare of Iowans, including the most vulnerable who depend on our courts, I will redouble efforts to stop the continuing erosion of judicial funding.