Letter to the Editor: Keeping the community in Community Based Corrections

To the Editor:

Community Based Corrections, or CBC, provides a vital service to Iowa communities. In corrections, prisons and jails are well known, but CBC is a part of the system that you may not know about because it has been operating quietly in the background for the past 50 years, saving millions in taxpayer dollars.

Unfortunately, legislation has been proposed that may have serious unintended consequences to our unique and effective system. We are asking all Iowans to learn about CBC to understand why its current structure is valuable.

CBC is responsible for providing services to Iowans involved with the criminal justice system, from pretrial release all the way through to parole. The majority of our clients are on probation, given an opportunity to remain in the community while on supervision in lieu of going to prison.

The state of Iowa is divided into eight judicial districts. Each judicial district’s Department of Community Based Corrections is governed by a Board comprised of a county supervisor from each county in the respective district, along with individuals appointed by the Chief Judge and local citizen representatives. Each District CBC was designed to serve the unique needs of its district. The original developers of the system understood that each community in Iowa and its citizens should have the responsibility to decide locally what programming best suits the needs of the area.

Even though each CBC district is unique to the people and businesses within each district, CBCs have much in common. CBCs work hard to assist criminal justice involved individuals ordered to be supervised within our communities. We work with clients to make the necessary positive changes in their lives to prevent continued criminal behavior (resulting in fewer victims). CBCs have been increasing mental health, drug and alcohol treatment options, personal values alignment classes and positive life choices.

We assist clients in removing barriers, encourage their progress and walk alongside them through accountability to ensure they follow through with supervision and treatment in the community. CBCs have developed nationally recognized programs using technology to increase access to services in rural communities.

CBCs have connections in our communities with faith based and non-profit agencies, government supported programs, and employers. Keeping clients in the community allows our businesses to fill jobs, clients pay taxes and support their families, and pay victim restitution. At the same time, CBCs provide a significant savings to the taxpayer. While it costs on average $106 per day to keep someone in prison, it costs just $7 per day to supervise someone in the community.

CBCs currently employ 31% of the corrections system staff, yet supervises 84% of the corrections system population. In nearly 50 years of existence, CBCs have provided an excellent return on the taxpayer’s investment.

Legislation is now being considered that would change the structure of the eight CBCs and combine them all under the larger Department of Corrections (DOC) which operates Iowa’s prisons. This is a part of the 1600-page realignment bill that is making its way through the legislative process. While there are many admirable components of this comprehensive bill, we believe Division XIV, which applies to CBC, may have some unintended consequences for Iowans that lawmakers and the public need to thoughtfully consider.

First, DOC has repeatedly stated the need for consistency across the state.  However, consistency does not equal excellence. CBCs individually strive for excellence in ways that are unique to the community needs of each district. The CBCs are consistent in our purchase of service agreement, human resource management, in meeting accreditation standards, utilization of statewide procurement processes, submitting our budget for approval by DOC, and we employ many standards and policies for efficient client operations.

Secondly, efficiency in prison releases has been stated as a goal by DOC.  CBCs are fully supportive of efficiency provided it does not come at the expense of public safety.

We fully support Governor Reynolds’ goals of increased accountability, excellence in services for Iowans and smaller State Government. We believe these goals can be fully and absolutely achieved by maintaining the current governing structure of CBC. In Iowa, we know that bigger is not always better. We are concerned that by transitioning our eight smaller CBC agencies into the one larger government agency (DOC), we will lose the shared responsibility and investment that comes with managing these services locally.

The Iowa CBC system was innovative at the time of its inception, and other state’s followed suit. Colorado, Minnesota and Oregon still have corrections programs modeled after Iowa’s original design and they are all well regarded programs pursuing excellence, just like Iowa. As you weigh the pros and cons of the proposed legislation, the end result will be much like the choice between seeking services at a local small business or a giant corporation…where is the service usually better in your experience? Keeping Iowa’s eight CBCs modeled after small businesses, governed by individuals closest to the communities they serve, will continue to provide the excellent results that Iowans have a right to expect.

Submitted by the Chairs of the Boards of Directors of the Judicial District Departments of Correctional Services,

John Shook, First District, Advisory Committee Delegate

Linda Murken, Second District, Story County Supervisor

Nancy McDowell, Third District, O’Brien County Supervisor

Lonnie Mayberry, Fourth District, Mills County Supervisor

Tom Hockensmith, Fifth District, Polk County Supervisor

Keith Rippey, Sixth District, Judicial Delegate

Shawn Roth, Seventh District Citizen Appointee

John Hughes, Eighth District, Monroe County Supervisor