April 22, 2024

Prisoner advocates urge Iowa Board of Corrections to allow self-advocacy

Civil commitment process of favoring ‘pre-prison offenses’ called into question

Dawn Bovenmyer, of Ames, speaks to the Iowa Board of Corrections during the Sept. 27 meeting in Des Moines. Bovenmyer spoke in support of David Morrow, who is incarcerated at Newton Correctional Facility and whose parole has been delayed because of referrals from the multi-disciplinary team, which determine if an individual is a sexually violent predator eligible for the state's civil commitment program. Bovenmyer contests Morrow does not fit that description.

Supporters of people incarcerated at Newton Correctional Facility urged the Iowa Board of Corrections at its meeting on Feb. 1 to allow and promote self-advocacy for inmates in regards to their civil commitment screening, continuing their long battle with the state to reassess its methods.

For almost half a year now, prisoner advocates have been demanding the Iowa Board of Corrections and the Iowa Department of Corrections adequately address what they believe are unjust civil commitment referrals that are either reviewed past deadline or left in limbo at the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.

Dave Bovenmyer, a pastor at Stonebrook Community Church in Ames, recalled the previous board meeting several months ago in which the process of civil commitment was explained. A few things stood out to him and his wife, Dawn, about the process, but he particularly mentioned the lack of self-advocacy.

“As a pastoral counselor I’ve learned the truth of the proverb: ‘The first to state his case seems just until another comes and examines him,’” he said of Proverbs 18:17. “The person can seem so much in the right but when you hear the other side of the story you think, ‘Wow that puts a whole different light on things.’”

Dave Bovenmyer also scrutinized one of the four criteria the Iowa Department of Corrections uses for whether to refer an individual for civil commitment: if that individual has more than one arrest or a conviction for a sexual offense. The inmate he and his wife are advocating for does meet this criteria.

In fact, David Morrow — who is serving his sentence at Newton Correctional Facility — has two convictions for a sexual offense, but Dave Bovenmyer argued one of them was with his wife at the time and the charge was lowered when a neighbor testified to seeing the two kissing in the hall that same day.

“Such knowledge is certainly relevant regarding whether a prisoner is likely to reoffend,” he said. “…Self-advocacy might involve an interview with a multi-disciplinary team, could ask clarifying questions or at least a written statement in which the prisoner could address all the factors under consideration.”

Self-advocacy could go a long way toward unnecessary referrals, Dave Bovenmyer added. He also pointed out there is a victim advocate on the multi-disciplinary team that assesses whether an inmate meets the definition of a sexually violent predator and decides whether they be civilly committed.

“Why not add a prisoner advocate?” Dave Bovenmyer asked.

Dawn Bovenmyer said the multi-disciplinary team evaluations also seem to be rooted in “pre-prison offenses” more so than what has happened in prison, most notably the completion of treatment. She said Morrow completed his training and has scored well on risk assessment tests, showing very little signs to reoffend.

So far, Morrow has served 21 years of his sentence. He has 13 years before he is discharged.

“It seems that in David’s case the conduct, attitudes and character he has developed while in prison have made no difference regarding his referral,” Dawn Bovenmyer said. “So we request the board pass a resolution asking the Department of Corrections re-evaluate the multi-disciplinary team’s process and criteria and include self-advocacy.”

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.