Iowa Prison Population Rising Again

Numbers reverse downward trend

By Rod Boshart, Gazette Des Moines Bureau

DES MOINES — More criminal offenders took up residence in Iowa’s prison system than checked out last fiscal year.

The number of inmates housed in state prisons rose slightly for the 12-month period that ended June 30 to 8,117, reversing a downward trend that saw releases outpace admissions in four of the previous six fiscal years, according to data compiled by the state Department of Corrections.

While up, Iowa’s prison population is significantly lower than the record high inmate count of 9,009 that occurred on April 9, 2011. Also, the latest state projections of future prison growth have been revised downward to expect an estimated population of male and female offenders totaling 9,243 on June 30, 2023.

The number of convicted offenders incarcerated at institutions in Anamosa, Clarinda, Fort Dodge, Mitchellville, Oakdale, Fort Madison, Mount Pleasant, Newton and Rockwell City was 689 above the overall design capacity for 7,428 inmates — a 9 percent overcrowding rate that was down from the 22 percent level in fiscal 2011. Friday’s corrections data indicated 8,131 inmates are housed in Iowa prisons and 31,061 offenders are under the supervision of community-based programs.

Prison admissions rose for the fifth straight year in fiscal 2014, a 6.4 percent jump that reflected a modest rise in new court commitments and double-digit jumps in probation revocations and inmates being returned because of parole or work release violations, said Lettie Prell, director of research for the Iowa Department of Corrections. The 1,658 parole revocations last fiscal year represented a record high number.

“Iowa has a strong community-based corrections program and we do try to keep offenders in the community wherever possible,” Prell said. “But when offenders are experiencing difficulties with complying with their supervisions and there is a risk to public safety, we seek to incarcerate them to protect the public and to turn around that behavior so that we can return them back to the community when they’re stabilized.”

Last fiscal year saw 2,312 paroles issued by the Iowa Board of Parole, a number that analysts in the state Department of Human Rights’ division of criminal and juvenile justice planning viewed as a return to past parole practices that were disrupted by a period of vacancies on the state panel. Paroles slipped to 1,320 in fiscal 2009 and 1,334 in fiscal 2010 during the time when the five-member state panel was not at full strength..

Marty Ryan, legislative advocate for the Justice Reform Consortium, said the latest prison admissions and releases represented a status quo report for a system that is in need of sentencing reform and more resources devoted to reducing probation caseloads and preparing inmates — especially those serve out their sentences — for release back into the community.

“(Iowa’s prison data) might be great compared to other states, but they’re still not good numbers,” Ryan said. “I still think we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

l Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@sourcemedia.net

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