Governor Branstad has proclaimed this week “Martin Luther King, Jr, Week" in Iowa. At a ceremony this morning at the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, the governor signed a proclamation and repeated calls for criminal justice reform he made last week in his “Condition of the State” address. He says in some cases, rehabilitation might be a better use of tax dollars than incarceration.
“We can protect the public while rehabilitating those who have committed crimes,” he says. “We can take steps to ensure that the most serious crime are punished with the most serious penalties. And, we can take steps to ensure that when our criminal justice system does impose punishment, that we are punishing the right person, and that race does not play a role.”
Polk County Judge Odell McGhee echoed the governor’s call for criminal justice reform. He says far too many African-Americans in Iowa prisons, and that many inmates in general are in prison because of illegal drug use.
“I mean, they have done nothing, really, to hurt society other than hurting themselves, but nonetheless, 60-percent of the people in jail today are there because of dope,” he said.
In his Condition of the State Address last week, the governor said his priorities for this year include fighting human trafficking and domestic violence, as well as reviewing the funding model for drug and mental health courts.
The governor also wants to see changes in how juvenile delinquency records are handled in Iowa. He says currently, most such records are made public, and that could hurt a young person’s chances at rehabilitation and landing a job one day.
“We must examine whether these policies are truly protecting the public, or simply serving as a roadblock, on the path to future career success for impacted Iowans,” Branstad says. “A minor crime should not be a lifelong barrier to a successful career.”
The governor says such records could still be made public is a judge determined it was in the best interest of the child involved and the general public.