Proposal Could Change Iowa Parole Board Voting Rule

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By Belinda Yeung

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A legislative committee will decide Tuesday whether to back a proposal to reduce the number of Iowa Parole Board votes needed to parole high-risk inmates.

The Des Moines Register reports the Administrative Rules Committee will take up the five-member board's proposal to trim the number of votes needed for parole from five to three. The proposal also adds new risk assessments, including a closer examination of the likelihood that an inmate would engage in violent crimes after being released.

Supporters argue the change would be more thorough and save money without endangering the public.

Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, said he's talked with prison officials and would support the change.

"It's worth a shot," Courtney said. "If it doesn't work, and six or eight months go by and we don't like it, we can change it, but let's give it a try. In my view, it's a step in the right direction."

Others, such as Rep. Dawn Pettengill, R-Mount Auburn, said the proposal raises risks to the public.

"The requirement and qualifications to get an early out on a sentence that was given to you for a heinous crime, I don't think should be loosened," said Pettengill, who plans to vote against the proposal.

Backers of the change note that because two members of the parole board work part-time, inmates can wait up to 60 days before the entire board can gather to make a decision. That delay costs the state about $500,000 a year, primarily due to the extra cost of keeping inmates locked up pending decisions.

The proposal also would institute new risk assessments for the board to consider. That would include treatment needs and greater study of whether an inmate would engage in violent crimes after release.

The five-vote policy for high-risk inmates has been required for the past 19 years.

During that time, Iowa's inmate population has climbed from 4,695 in 1993 to 8,333 at the end of the last fiscal year. The parole board's staff also has declined since 1993, from 11 to the current six.

Board chairman Jason Carlstrom, who served two years as Dickinson County attorney, said the new system would be more efficient.

"Removing the super majority voting requirement is not going to affect in a negative way the public's safety at all," Carlstrom said. "The board is made up of conscientious, intelligent people who are committed to doing good work."
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