By Pat Finan
Sheriff Jason Sandholdt explored new ways to keep the public safe at a recent national summit. A key balance involves keeping the right people in prison while giving addicts a chance to recover and avoid crime, he said.
Sandholdt represented Iowa’s law enforcement community at the 50-State Summit on Public Safety held Nov. 13-14 in Washington, D.C. Teams of four state leaders from across the nation discussed better ways to use money and resources to prevent crime, he said.
“Would I rather have a heroin addict, who’s harming themselves, in prison for two years or would I rather add two years onto someone else’s sentence that’s getting out too early?” he asked. “For me as a sheriff, I want to get the addict the help they need. I would much rather get them into a program outside of prison that’s working, and then keep the person that robbed the old lady in prison longer.”
Sandholdt explained that he’s not soft on crime. In fact, he is frustrated with sentencing guidelines that whittle 25-year terms down to four, he said. At the same time, addicts who are first-time offenders might be steered toward recovery and careers if given the right options, he said.
“It’s not just keeping people out of jail,” he said. “It’s keeping the right people in jail.”
The summit was coordinated and funded by the Justice Center, a project of the Council of State Governments. Each state team received a workbook of data specific to its state, then had plenty of time to share ideas with colleagues from elsewhere, Sandholdt said.
“It was really cool to see what works well in some states,” he said. “You had other states where it was like, ‘We tried this and it didn’t work, so don’t waste taxpayer money on this program.’”
Iowa, for example, has strong programs to teach prisoners skills to get jobs when they are released, Sandholdt said. This makes them less likely to return to crime and prison, he said, citing statistics that show re-arrest rates dropping dramatically if an ex-con stays out of trouble for a year.