As the Legislature enters their fourth week of the session amid what will be a hotly contested gubernatorial race from all sides, we know that healthcare and mental health will be topics debated for an extended period of time; and for good reason.
Another policy area which we must address and look to improve is our criminal justice system. There are a lot of areas of agreement almost our elected leaders on this subject and I have a few suggestions for Republicans, Democrats, and Independents on what we need to do in order to improve our justice system and strengthen our communities.
First, we need to propose, support, and pass “Ban the Box” legislation in the state. This legislation has been passed in other states and eventually postpones questions about job candidates' criminal background. Studies show that postponing those questions until later in the hiring process reduces negative impact of a criminal record by 15 percent. Affording those who have paid their debt to society a chance at a quality job to support themselves, their family, and their community only helps us all.
Second, we need to pass sensible, tough on crime, smart on justice legislation to support reduced recidivism and crowding at our state prisons. On one hand this is a cost-saving measure but more importantly ensures our criminal punishments aren’t punitive. Reducing sentences for nonviolent offenders and getting them back into their communities will improve the lives of all Iowans, including their own.
Finally, we need to enact and expand district drug courts and Veteran’s courts to ensure we are doing all we can to support those who need it and are willing to work to better their lives and strengthen their own communities. The more we can support rehabilitation and counseling, the stronger our families and their own opportunities to grow in their lives, the better we will all be in the long run.
These three simple solutions will help to reform our criminal justice system in dire needs of modernization. In addition, policy should always reflect the best in us, and in America, and here in Iowa in our local communities, everyone deserves a second chance and the Iowa Legislature can do just that.