Justice System

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, the number of heroin overdose deaths in Iowa has increased from three in 2007 to 20 in 2013.

“Six years ago we didn’t see heroin cases, just didn’t see it,” says Nicholas Klinefeldt, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. “Now we have heroin cases; we have heroin overdose deaths. It’s here, and I think the problem is going to get worse before it gets better.”


The Iowa Court of Appeals today ruled in favor of a complainant in a sexual harassment case.  

The case alleges violations of Iowa’s Civil Rights statute by Iowa Senate Republicans.

Senate Republicans fired Kristen Anderson from her job as communications director in May of 2013 alleging poor job performance.   Anderson claimed she was fired for reporting sexual harassment on the job. 

Governor Branstad has announced a new Wrongful Conviction Division in the Office of State Public Defender.  

Officials will conduct DNA analysis for many as 100 inmates who may have been convicted on what’s now called “junk science.” 

The state will work with an organization known as the Innocence Project, which has helped exonerate inmates in more than 300 cases on the basis of DNA evidence.     

State officials will review Iowa cases in which hair analysis played a major role in convictions.  

Christopher Hawkins/flickr

A federal prosecutor for Iowa’s Northern Judicial District briefed an advisory group in Des Moines today on the growing problem of heroin addiction, especially in eastern Iowa.  

Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Chatham addressed the Iowa Drug Policy Advisory Council.    

Chatham prosecutes drug crimes, including dozens of heroin cases which have grown as users move from prescription meds to heroin.     

He says says heroin on the streets is getting more and more potent.

Emily Woodbury

One year and nine months after the completion of the new Iowa State Penitentiary, more than 500 of Iowa’s most dangerous offenders were transferred to the new grounds. On this edition of River to River – a look inside Fort Madison’s new $166 million maximum security prison.

Host Ben Kieffer and producer Emily Woodbury take a tour with Warden Nick Ludwick, who says the architecture of the new prison helps maximize safety, even with fewer security guards. He also says that the penitentiary has a certain “vibe” due to the effort he and his staff put towards mutual respect.

Emily Woodbury

In August, more than 500 of Iowa’s most dangerous offenders were moved into the new $166 million Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. The new facility is a quantum leap ahead of the “old fort,” as it was known, some of which dated back to the 1830s, before Iowa became a state.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Black Iowans feel profiled by police, and reviews have found that Iowa’s profiling policies fall short of national standards.

On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with those calling for change in the way justice is implemented in Iowa, a state that holds the number one ranking in the nation for incarcerating African Americans on a per capita basis.

“The problem at this point is over incarceration; it’s not skyrocketing crime rates," says Vikrant Reddy, senior fellow at the Charles Koch Institute. "Those are actually declining."

Joyce Russell/IPR

The NAACP held a day-long symposium Friday on the overrepresentation of African-Americans in Iowa prisons.   

The symposium addressed a wide range of issues, from racial profiling to the underrepresentation of minorities on Iowa juries.  

The NAACP cites statistics showing the overrepresentation of minorities in corrections is worse in Iowa than in any other state, in particular for drug offenses.  

Arnold Woods with the Des Moines NAACP says it’s not an abstract topic for blacks.

Iowa Department of Corrections

Earlier this month, more than 500 of Iowa’s most dangerous offenders were transferred to a new maximum-security prison in Fort Madison.

On this edition of River to River, Ben Kieffer talks with Bill Petroski of the Des Moines Register about the transfer, the differences in the new and old facilities, and the roughly $175 million cost of the prison, originally estimated at $130 million.

Paul De Los Reyes / Flickr

Local and national politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, have called for reforms aimed at reducing America’s prison and jail populations, particularly nonviolent offenders like drug users.

In a speech earlier this month to the NAACP, President Obama said the U.S. needs to fund more drug courts.

Joyce Russell/IPR

Governor Branstad says last week’s momentous U.S. Supreme Court ruling will not have a big impact in Iowa, since same-sex marriage has been well-established in the state since 2009.  

The governor today commented on the fact that county officials in other states may try to deny licenses to same-sex couples in protest.   

Branstad says he’s not aware of any way that could happen here.

Angelo Mercado/flickr

With some opposition, the Iowa Senate today approved a resolution that will allow the Meskwaki settlement near Tama to assume jurisdiction for criminal justice.

Tama County oversees law enforcement and prosecutions at the settlement.  

The resolution asks the federal government to repeal a 1948 law giving the state of Iowa oversight of offenses by Meskwakis against Meskwakis.  

State Center Democrat Steve Sodders says tribal leaders  have been asking for this for a long time.

John Pemble/IPR

The Iowa Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit that challenged Governor Branstad’s decision to close the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo last year.  

Democratic lawmakers and a public employee union leader sued, claiming the governor exceeded his authority by closing the home after the legislature appropriated money to run it.    

The court ruled the case is moot since no money was appropriated to reopen the home.  

Mark / flickr / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

Last year's legislation that decriminalized possession of cannabis oil for treatment of chronic epilepsy has not changed much for Iowa patients hoping to use the drug for treatment.

Jeff Kubina / flickr

Has the U.S. Supreme Court become a partisan institution? According to polls, many Americans think so.

Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to take up any of the cases before them involving same-sex marriage.

John Pemble / IPR

The Iowa legislative calendar has the last day of the 2014 session falling late next month. Last week Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, a Democrat from Council Bluffs, said Iowa Republicans and Democrats have gotten better working together.

Photo by Dean Borg

On a strict party line vote, the Iowa Senate  approved a Democratic bill calling for a facility for delinquent girls in Iowa comparable to the boy’s facility in Eldora.  But  Republicans say a state-run institution  isn’t necessary, and the private sector can fill the need.   

John Pemble / Iowa Public Radio

As the legal battle over whether Governor Terry Branstad had the authority to close the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo plays out in court, lawmakers are coming to agreement over what changes are needed to establish a place for the state's female juvenile delinquents.  A bill in the Iowa Senate provides for a state run facility for girls, much like the one in Eldora that serves boys.  But changes to state law are needed to ensure that girls will not again be held indefinitely in isolation cells, without access to education and services.  Host Clay Masters talks with Jerry Foxhoven who served a

John Pemble / IPR

This legislative session has been dominated by controversy surrounding the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo. Gov  Branstad ordered its closure after the group Disability Rights Iowa found girls were being held in isolation. Four lawmakers sued Branstad to keep the home open. Last week many were surprised when a polk county district court judge ordered the reopening of the home. Governor Branstad has asked the Iowa Supreme Court to overturn the order to reopen the home. He made the announcement Friday and he is being represented by the Iowa Attorney General.

johnny9s / flickr

In this News Buzz program, hear six short interviews about: the Iowa Juvenile Home, the Olympics in Russia, an embarrassing phone conversation involving the U.S. State Department, a cyber-security competition, a deadly snowmobile accident and safety concerns, and the analysis of flood prediction. 

Photo by John Pemble

Governor Terry Branstad ordered the closure of the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo last month. It was after an investigation uncovered some girls were held in isolation cells. Last week Senate Democrats unveiled a bill to reopen the home under a new program. IPR's Clay Masters talks with Statehouse Correspondent about the juvenile home as well as the likelihood of lawmakers raising the state's  gas tax.

State lawmakers looking into the closing of the Iowa Juvenile Home at Toledo got a fresh perspective from juvenile court officers who work with the  delinquent girls who used to be assigned to the home.     The officers argue that Iowa needs a facility specifically for  girls who’ve been in serious trouble with the law.  Governor Branstad is at odds with the judicial branch. 

John Pemble / IPR

A committee in the Iowa Senate heard from experts on using stun guns, so-called tasers, to subdue difficult inmates. Two prisoners have died in Iowa jails after being tased by officers. A number of other law enforcement agencies have faced lawsuits for their use of stun guns. Iowa Public Radio's Joyce Russell reports

John Pemble / IPR

Democrats in the Iowa Senate plan to introduce a bill to reopen the Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo.   Governor Branstad ordered the home closed after an  investigation revealed that some girls were being held in long-term isolation.   On Wednesday, a Senate committee heard testimony from former residents and staff, as well as Toledo boosters.  Iowa Public Radio’s Joyce Russell reports:  

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee

While support to reduce prison sentences has been growing, Iowa State University sociologist Matt DeLisi recently testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that for certain offenders this would be a mistake. 

Emily Woodbury

Marsha Ternus was the first woman to serve as chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, but she's perhaps best known as one of the Iowa Supreme Court justices dismissed by Iowa voters three years ago, for her role in the decision that legalized same-sex marriage in the state. Host Ben Keiffer sits down with Ternus to get her thoughts on that ruling, and on justice and judicial independence in the U.S.

William & Mary ACS

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013-2014 term started this month and after last year’s series of surprising and tumultuous rulings eyes again are trained on the nation’s highest court.

martin/ x1klima / Flickr
Joe Burbank / AP

 Dr. Michael Blackwell, the University of Northern Iowa's Director for Multicultural Education, joins IPR's Sarah McCammon to preview a panel discussion at UNI on the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case.