ACLU of Iowa Releases Roadmap for Cutting Incarceration by 50 Percent

Affiliate: ACLU of Iowa
March 7, 2019 3:30 pm

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Des Moines, Iowa — The ACLU of Iowa today released a report that outlines how Iowa can cut in half the number of incarcerated people by pursuing reforms to its criminal justice system.

The report is a part of the ACLU’s Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints project, a comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of how states can transform their criminal justice system and cut incarceration in half.

The stakes are high. Between 1980 and 2016, Iowa’s prison population more than tripled, and, as of December 2016, 46,700 Iowans were in prison, jail, or under correctional control.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Iowa can dramatically reduce its prison population by implementing just a few sensible reforms:

  • Decriminalizing drug possession across the state.
  • Expanding social services and treatment for mental health and substance use needs.
  • Reforming the pretrial system to enhance constitutional protections, and eradicating wealth-based discrimination by restricting the use of cash bail.
  • Eliminating crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparities.
  • Enacting parole reform to expand access to early release.

If Iowa were to follow these and other reforms outlined in this Smart Justice 50-State Blueprint, 5,428 fewer people would be in prison in Iowa by 2025, saving over $360 million dollars that could be invested in schools, services, and other resources that would strengthen communities.

The Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints project is the first-ever analysis of its kind and will serve as a tool for activists, advocates and policymakers to push for transformational change to the criminal justice system. They are the result of a multi-year partnership between the ACLU, its state affiliates, and the Urban Institute to develop actionable policy options for each state that capture the nuance of local laws and sentencing practices.

The blueprint includes an overview of Iowa’s incarcerated populations, including analysis on who is being sent to jail and prison and the racial disparities that are present, what drives people into the system, how long people spend behind bars, and why people are imprisoned for so long.

The blueprints offer a calculation on the impact of certain reforms by 2025 on racial disparities in the prison population, fiscal costs, and overall prison population and progress towards a 50 percent decarceration goal.

“The Iowa Blueprint shows the wide scope of the problems we face in our state as a result of mass incarceration and the urgent need to pursue reforms,” said Mark Stringer, executive director of the ACLU of Iowa. “It provides vital information as well as inspiration for the next steps we must take to improve our criminal justice system and reduce the number of incarcerated Iowans.”

“Mass incarceration is a nationwide problem, but one that is rooted in the states and must be fixed by the states,” said Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice. “We hope that the Smart Justice 50-State Blueprints provide necessary guideposts for activists and policymakers as they pursue local solutions that will address the stark racial disparities in our criminal justice system and dramatically reduce their jail and prison populations. Some of the reforms contained in the blueprints are readily achievable, while others are going to require audacious change. But all are needed to prioritize people over prisons.”

The reports are all viewable on an interactive website that allows users to visualize the reductions in jail and prison population that would result from the policy decisions that states pursue. The Iowa report can be found here:

The website and the reports were created by utilizing a forecasting tool developed by the Urban Institute, which can be viewed here:

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