Like many states responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa criminal justice stakeholders implemented changes to maintain public health and safety. These changes were deployed at the local level and involved increasing the use of technology to continue supervision contacts, deliver programming, and convene court hearings and increasing the use of telehealth services by community treatment providers.
Criminal justice agencies also took measures to exhaust community resources before recommending incarceration and implemented new administrative processes for revocations—all to prioritize jail and prison space for people who posed a risk to public safety.
These efforts were reflected in the following changes in the state’s criminal justice trends:
- Community-based corrections (CBC) agencies oversee most people under correctional control in Iowa. In the 6 months following March 2020, the CBC population increased by nearly 20 percent and is currently larger than pre-pandemic levels. Because of this, changes in practice at the CBC level could significantly impact community supervision outcomes, public safety, and state budgets.
- More than half of CBC sentences are completed successfully, and between March 2019 and May 2021, supervision revocations accounted for less than 2 percent of the total supervision population. However, supervision revocations still account for most prison admissions. Since the implementation of pandemic-related criminal justice responses in March 2020, the average monthly revocation rate decreased by nearly 40 percent. When compared to pre-pandemic levels, revocations due to technical violations declined at a higher rate than those due to new arrests; 75 percent of revocations in 2020 were driven by new offenses. Because the CBC population is so large, interventions and resources that help decrease new arrests could significantly impact IDOC and CBC operations.
Now, nearly two years into the pandemic, state leaders in Iowa have launched a bipartisan, interbranch effort to answer the following questions:
- Have recent changes that were implemented in response to the pandemic had a positive, negative, or neutral impact on public safety and CBC operations?
- Should IDOC and CBC agencies continue or enhance these new procedures to increase the ability of staff to successfully supervise individuals in the community?
- Do IDOC and CBC need any specific resources or better procedures (training, technology, treatment services, etc.) to successfully supervise individuals in the community?
- To maximize potential benefits and resources, what data-driven recommendations (administrative or legislative) may be needed to improve clients’ chances of success in the community?
Iowa’s innovative use of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) approach will involve an extensive analysis of available data, a comprehensive assessment of community supervision practices, and criminal justice stakeholder engagement led by The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center. JRI is supported and funded by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance and The Pew Charitable Trusts.
CSG Justice Center staff will work with IDOC on data analysis efforts and will facilitate focus groups or interviews with correctional stakeholders, victim advisory groups, law enforcement, and judicial court stakeholders.
Findings from this project could help shift the national culture of community supervision by highlighting promising practices that focus criminal justice resources on preserving effective community supervision and promoting client success.
This project was supported by Grant No. 2019-ZB-BX-K002 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.
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