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Time has come for overhaul of Iowa’s criminal justice system

Published: Friday, June 14, 2013 12:00 p.m. CDT

Government’s role in defending its citizens from crime through enforcement of our laws and by exacting punishment upon those who violate them is not up for debate. But, given recent news accounts involving previously violent criminals allegedly committing new violent crimes, perhaps how government is performing that role should be.

Whether the kidnappings and murders in Evansdale and Dayton are connected or not, it is clear the man who is believed to have committed the latter crime, Michael Klunder, never should have been out of prison. Looking at the local case of Daniel Jay Jensen, a Newton man who is alleged to have committed a violent crime while out on bond for less than three months awaiting trial for another violent crime he had been accused of committing, we again find someone who probably shouldn’t have been set free.

It is true the recidivism rate — the rate at which offenders return to prison within three years — in Iowa is significantly below the national average. But, the last time that rate was checked was more than five years ago, and even then, it only reviewed the recidivism rate for violent offenders.

The recidivism goal for Iowa’s criminal justice system as of 2011 was 33 percent. The last time it was measured, the rate was slightly less than that, 31.8 percent.

Violent crime isn’t the only problem, but it is where the failures of the government system are most noticeable. And the failures aren’t limited to just law enforcement, the Judicial Branch, the Department of Corrections, or the Parole Board.

There is plenty to go around. There’s even enough to heap some on ourselves.

It’s a good idea to reduce state spending and the burden on taxpayers in Iowa. But have we, as citizens, held realistic expectations of government? The simple answer: probably not.

Are we asking for more than our tax burden — high as it might be — will adequately fund? The simple answer: probably.

Recently, the State of Iowa, in a largely bipartisan effort, initiated a wholesale change in the way mental healthcare and the care for the developmentally disabled are handled. And while time will tell if those changes will have the desired effect, the reactions of those who work daily in those areas would seem to indicate they will.

The time has come for Iowa to do the same with its criminal justice system. A top-to-bottom review, focused on providing the appropriate measures of punishment and rehabilitation, while reducing prison overcrowding and — most importantly — maintaining public safety is long overdue.

We would urge our local lawmakers to begin the necessary conversations now to get the wheels turning. Public safety cannot wait until the next legislative session.

• • •

The following represents the view of the Daily News Editorial Board. Readers may respond with their own views by writing letters to the editor. They may be delivered to U.S. Mail to P.O. Box 967, Newton, IA 50208, or by email to newsroom@newtondailynews.com.

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