During a recent tour of the Eldora, Iowa boys’ training school, a panel of young men participating in the substance abuse treatment program shared their looming fears: Finding a safe place to live so that they could break the cycle of addiction that leads to a life of crime stood at the forefront. So apparently it isn’t just adults convicted of a felony that are struggling to find a safe place to live.
We started the legislative session lobbying to address the housing shortage for people trying to turn their lives around, but unfortunately we needed to quickly shift into damage control mode as one legislative bill after another was introduced to enhance penalties, thereby creating even more potential felons unable to find housing and jobs after serving their time. We continue to battle the age-old argument, “if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” But those supporting this belief should really make the time to think about what “crimes” should rise to the level of felony. Do Iowa taxpayers really want to foot the bill for the creation of the following potential felons?
- A person who owes over $10,000 in child support commits neglect. A person who commits neglect would be guilty of a class “C” felony. A class “C” felony is punishable by confinement for no more than 10 years and a fine of at least $1,000 but not more than $10,000. Isn’t this an interesting approach? Taxpayers would need to foot the bill for incarcerating the irresponsible parent along with possibly paying public assistance to the struggling single parent. Good luck finding a job to pay child support with a “C” felony on your record when you eventually make it out of prison.
- The penalty for a person convicted of a third offense OWI would increase from a class “D” felony to a class “C” felony and the mandatory term of imprisonment shall be at least 60 days but shall not exceed 10 years. The fine imposed shall be from $5,000 to $10,000 and the person convicted of a third offense OWI is subject to a permanent license revocation and mandatory vehicle seizure and forfeiture. Hmmm…third offense OWI, funny how Iowans are okay with building jails and prisons to house alcoholics and drug addicts, but discussing long-term treatment facilities isn’t even on the table.
- A new offense would apply to a child’s mother who caused an illegal drug to be present in the body of a newborn child punishable as a class “D” felony. Not sure if this is meant to be a deterrent for unhealthy prenatal decisions, but most addicts don’t sit down and practice logical reasoning before using drugs. An unfortunate consequence to this one would be a newborn baby who could survive the drugs in his system in the hospital ends up dead in a dumpster as the mother attempts to avoid prosecution. But the health and well being of the new life is probably not the purpose for this punitive perspective.
- An increased criminal penalty for knowingly purchasing or possessing a visual depiction of a minor engaged in a prohibited sexual or simulated sexual act. The first offense increases the criminal penalty from an aggravated misdemeanor to a class “D” felony. For a second or subsequent violation, the bill increases the criminal penalty from a class “D” felony to a class “C” felony. Remember, this does nothing to punish or stop the person actually violating the child by creating the visual depictions.
- Remember the U.S. Supreme Court case of Miller v. Alabama? Well, in at least one bill, a person convicted of murder in the first degree who was under the age of 18 at the time the offense was committed shall be eligible for parole after serving a minimum term of confinement of 60 years, unless at the time of sentencing the court finds “substantial and compelling reasons” to impose a life sentence without the possibility of parole. This is apparently a collaborative response to offering minors a “meaningful” chance at parole. Maybe this is simply a symptom of our deteriorating educational system confusing the definition of mean for meaningful.
- The aggravated misdemeanor for distributing a synthetic cannabinoid isn’t tough enough and should be raised to a class “D” felony. Heavy sigh.
- Attempting to remove a peace officer’s communication device would be a class “D” felony.
- If you interfere with official acts by running away from a police officer who may inadvertently fall and hurt himself could be…you guessed it…a class “D” felony.
- Assaulting a bus driver versus an ordinary citizen with intent to inflict serious injury would be an enhanced penalty, yep…a class “D” felony.
Had enough? Notice a pattern? You see, legislators catering to either law enforcement agencies “wish list” of enhancing penalties or angry constituents wanting to “get even” has created no place to go for discussing much needed, meaningful changes to current public policies. Now prosecutors will tell you that they don’t necessarily want to enforce these felonies, they just want to use the threats as bargaining chips for plea agreements. And since 90% of cases are resolved with plea bargains, the dysfunction continues. An example of collateral damage from this damaging approach is the young men in Eldora, Iowa. How will they learn to respect the law when those that create it have so little respect? But when one of your main goals in life at age15, 16 or 17 is finding a safe place to live, the political games being played out at the Iowa Capitol seem pretty petty. And after all, as long as there are tax payers willing to foot the bill for creating class “D” or class “C” felonies, why should anything change?
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