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What will criminal justice reform look like in Iowa?

This session of the Iowa legislature will consider issues involving criminal justice reform. Changes to the criminal justice system are always controversial and subject to a wide variety of opinions within the legislature. This year, they are expected to consider matters involving sentencing, mental illness, medical marijuana and use of fines in criminal cases.

The role of fines in creating a revolving-door within the system has been shown by situations in other parts of the country. Many poor and low-income individuals are subjected to tickets for minor traffic offenses and if they are unable to pay that fine, additional fines are levied.

Eventually, they lose their license and are faced with the Hobson's choice of losing their job because they can no longer drive to work or risk driving without a license, where if they are stopped, they will receive yet more fines.

In cities like Ferguson, it became clear that the city was dependent on the funds extracted via fines and there was a strong incentive for law enforcement to focus on generating revenue via their traffic stops.

This type of perversion of the justice system only enhances distrust and contempt for the legal system.

Sentencing reform is necessary but complex. Legislators must recognize that sending someone to prison for five years carries consequences far beyond those five years. Failing to ensure those released from prison have the training and skills to reenter society and obtain viable employment merely guarantees the criminal justice system will have repeat "customers."

Source: messengernews.net, "Action expected on Iowa criminal justice issues," Bill Shea, January 24, 2016

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