Criminal Justice Reform in Iowa

In Iowa, the prison population has risen tremendously over the years: According to the Sentencing Project, its incarcerated population almost quadrupled between 1980 and 2015. In 2012, nearly a quarter of the people in Iowa prisons were serving sentences for drug crimes, which largely contributed to the overcrowded prison population. This problem is causing Iowans to spend more than $265 million a year on the state’s prison system; signaling a change is necessary.

In 2016, Governor Branstad supported a criminal justice reform package that allows certain low-level drug offenders to become eligible for parole or work release after serving half of their mandatory minimum sentence. It is expected to reduce sentences for hundreds of nonviolent drug offenders and estimated to save more than $700,000.

In 2018, Iowa State Legislature passed a new sentencing bill, which repeals the 20-month mandatory minimums for Class C drug offenses, allows judges to reconsider and adjust a person’s sentence for a Class C or D felony while the offender is in prison, and also reduces the sentencing disparity between offenses for crack and powder cocaine from 10:1 to 2.5:1.

Iowa has made great strides in affecting criminal justice reform, but it still has work to do to combat the increasing incarceration rate.

Identification of legislation should not be considered an endorsement of support of, or opposition to, such bills.

Letter to Senator Zaun from Pat Nolan