Iowa Prison Officials To Recalculate Sentences Of More Than 3,000 Inmates

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - More than three thousand inmates in Iowa's prison system could get an early "out" from their total time behind bars. And it's all due to an Iowa Supreme Court ruling earlier this summer.

In May, the state's high court ruled that Michael Leroy Anderson, of Marshall County, should earn the state's automatic "good time" reduction of a prison sentence for the time he was on probation and not behind bars. Anderson was a convicted sex offender who violated his probation while under home confinement. On Friday, members of the Iowa Board of Corrections heard how that ruling would potentially impact other current inmates in the state prison system.

Fred Scaletta, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Corrections, said the most current estimate now is the Anderson ruling would change the prison time calculation for 3,444 people in the department's system. The department will have to go case by case to figure the amount of time that must be served before a sentence is considered discharged.

And Scaletta said the ruling could have some big consequences.

"We think it's a public safety issue. The court issues a sentence and that's what they expect, " Scaletta said. "If they were revoked and sent to prison it's the intention of the court that it's a serious enough of an issue they deserve to do some more time."

Scaletta said it's the department's view, in light of the court ruling, that the decision applies to all who have their probation revoked and are ordered to finish a sentence.

Brian Sissel, supervisor for the Linn County Public Defender's office, said the ruling is the talk of prisoners at the Linn County Jail now. But he said probation instead of prison is a judgment usually reserved for those who commit less serious crimes. So the total impact might be less than some believe.

"Usually, the people who are high risk don't get probation initially anyway. So there's little to no impact on these people," Sissel said. He added that while several thousand might have their total prison time reduced because of "good time" while on probation, it's likely to be just a month or two in many cases.

Sissel said the high court's ruling was based on a change made by state lawmakers some years ago. He expects county prosecutors to go to lawmakers in the upcoming session to close what some would consider a loophole in the law.

Scaletta said 117 out of the 3,444 on the list for sentence recalculation are identified by the state as sexual predators. Scaletta said the department would concentrate on those cases first and would likely seek a civil commitment for those inmates rather than see them get out of prison early.
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