Keynote address at Iowa Justice Summit
by Peter Wagner, August 31, 2015
On Friday, I gave the keynote address at the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP‘s third annual Iowa Summit on Justice & Disparities, which brought together leaders such as Governor Terry Branstad, state decision makers, law enforcement, and reform advocates to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing the criminal justice system in Iowa.
As a guide for attendees who want more information, I wanted to share some links to the published research I discussed and summaries of some of the unpublished work that I mentioned in my talk.
I addressed the globally unprecedented incarceration boom in the U.S. and Iowa:
- Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie, which captures the various types and sizes of correctional facilities in this country
- Graph showing the growth of state prisons, federal prisons and local jails from 1925 to the present from our report Tracking State Prison Growth in 50 States
- A graph showing Blacks are overrepresented in Iowa’s prisons and jails from our report Breaking Down Mass Incarceration in the 2010 Census: State-by-State Incarceration Rates by Race/Ethnicity
- A graph comparing Iowa’s prison growth with that of other states finding that, due to recent reforms, states like New York have successfully dropped their rate of incarceration below that of Iowa’s.
- States of Incarceration: The Global Context comparing individual U.S. states to other countries on the use of the prison. If Iowa was a country, it’d have the fourth highest rate of incarceration in the world.
I also addressed how even our economic, legal and cultural systems are built upon the assumption of mass incarceration to the detriment of people on both sides of prison walls:
- Our research and advocacy on the exploitative prison and jail telephone industry. In Iowa, a 15-minute phone call home can cost:
- Our research on one of the worst ideas out of the War on Drugs: sentencing enhancement zones. I also showed pictures to illustrate just how far 1,000 feet is and why this is too big to ever work.
- Suspending common sense in Massachusetts: Drivers license suspensions for drug offenses unrelated to driving. Iowa has a similar statute, §901.5(10) that requires the state to automatically suspend the drivers licenses of people convicted of certain drug offenses. This policy is an unnecessary impediment to people with past drug convictions getting and maintaining employment.
- The growth of the unconvicted jail population and why jails can’t be ignored. (99% of the growth in jails in the last 15 years resulted from increases in the number of people who are not convicted)
During the Q&A, there were questions about:
- Prison gerrymandering and Anamosa, Iowa as covered on Iowa Public Radio and in the documentary Gerrymandering.
- Private prisons that are actually a small share of the prison system’s influence.
- How criminal justice debt is a barrier to reentry.
And after my talk, I have had several conversations with participants about what the Prison Policy Initiative knows about the burgeoning video visitation industry that often bans in-person jail visits in favor of expensive computer chats nationwide and in Iowa. While more research in Iowa is needed, we know that these Iowa counties have adopted video visitation in some form:
- Buena Vista County
- Cerro Gordo County
- Des Moines County, which contracts with Lattice and charges $20 for a 40-minute visit
- Hardin County, which contracts with HomeWAV
- Iowa County
- Johnson County
- Polk County, which contracts with iWebVisit.com
- Pottawattamie County, which contracts with Securus
- Scott County
- Wapello County, which has replaced family in-person visits with video visits
- Woodbury County, which contracts with Securus
One exciting and immediate development from the Summit is that Governor Branstad has added telephone charges to his Working Group on Justice Policy Reform’s priorities.
If you are interested in bringing the Prison Policy Initiative to you, see our speakers page.