Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Prisons Boss: Death Penalty Unlikely In Iowa

Iowa likely will never reinstate the death penalty because of long-standing political sensibilities and confidence in a “life means life” sentencing system, the state’s top prisons official said Monday.

Iowa has not had the death penalty for more than 40 years.

In a wide-ranging speech and question-and-answer session with the Carroll Rotary Club, John Baldwin, director of the Iowa Department of Corrections, pointed out Iowa’s strict life sentencing policy, one that differs from other states.

“In this state life means what it says it does,” Baldwin said. “When you get sentenced to life you are eligible for parole a day after you’re dead.”

Art Neu, a Carroll attorney who is on the Board of Corrections, said life in prison is worse than death.

“I’d opt for death any old day,” said Neu, who has visited all of the state’s prisons and some out of Iowa. “That’s not a country club.”

Baldwin noted that the last execution in Iowa was a federal hanging in 1963. The last two executions under Iowa law were at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison in 1962.

In 1965 the death penalty was abolished by the legislature and Gov. Harold Hughes.
“Iowans by and large just don’t favor the death penalty,” Baldwin said.

In the 1990s the issue was hot in the Iowa Legislature, and in 1990 Gov. Terry Branstad made the death penalty a major campaign issue.

It emerges from time to time but not with as much intensity.

“While they (legislators) talked about it they never did anything,” Baldwin said.

He said Iowans have a “liberal background” on the death penalty question.

Moving to more immediate issues of infrastructure and population, Baldwin said new prisons and Fort Madison and Mitchellville, as well as community based corrections facility upgrades in Waterloo, Sioux City, Des Moines and Ottumwa, would help relieve growing pressure on the 9,000 prisoner system.

One major item is the proposed construction of a new prison to replace the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. That prison is the oldest building in Iowa, with original construction in 1839, fully seven years before Iowa became a state.
Baldwin said a new prison, at a price tag of $131 million, would allow the state to house 800 inmates with the same staff it now uses to manage 550.

“It’s a wise investment,” Baldwin said. “It will keep our people safe.”

Baldwin expects a spike in the prison in 2009 as tougher regulations on sex offender go into effect.

“When the law was passed it increased the time of some sex offenders,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin said an increase in the female prison population is linked largely to substance abuse and mental health issues. About 60 percent of women in the prison system are diagnosed with mental illness compared with 30 percent for the corrections department as a whole, he said.

The most troubling inmates in terms of reform potential are those with a dual diagnosis of mental health problems and substance abuse.

“Those people recidivate two to three times the average,” Baldwin said.

(Photo: Iowa Department of Corrections director John Baldwin speaks to the Carroll Rotary Club Monday about a number of criminal justice matters.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Iowa will never reinstate the death penalty.the long standing political are sensibilities and confidence.the most troubling potential are dual diagnosis of mental health problems and substance abuse.he made that his unusual campaign would not stop in Iowa.
Dual Diagnosis
Dual Diagnosis