Gary Hinzman, who became the city’s police chief at age 37, is winding up a 24-year-run this month in his second career — as director of the 6th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services.
In a break from taking photos off his office walls this week, the 65-year-old Hinzman said he was leaving, in part, to make sure he wouldn’t stand in the way of change.
He never has been one to assume a top post and sit.
In 1989, the community corrections department’s board of directors hired Hinzman away from the Cedar Rapids Police Department at a time when the prevailing statewide correctional philosophy had been to put halfway houses for offenders in neighborhoods. However, the department had been rebuffed repeatedly by neighbors as it attempted to open a new halfway house. Hinzman quickly convinced the department’s board to build a correctional campus in an area zoned industrial on 29th Street SW where there were no neighbors to protest.
Today, the department’s campus has two residential facilities, a classroom building, central office, central kitchen and a new residential center that provides outpatient mental health services for offenders even if it still lacks state funds to house that clientele.
Some years ago, Hinzman also created a non-profit entity called the Community Correctional Improvement Association (CCIA) to work alongside his state-funded, six-county corrections agency with the idea that he and his citizen boards of directors could go on the hunt for grant money not available to the agency.
Allan Thoms, president of the Sixth Judicial District Department of Correctional Services’ board of directors, this week said he had no other word for Hinzman and his work "other than phenomenal."
Thoms pointed specifically to the CCIA’s program called Children of Promise, which provides mentors for children with a parent in prison, sponsors a foster grandparents program for at-risk children with math and reading problems and runs a youth leadership program for at-risk children from fifth grade through high school.
"It’s the only one in Iowa," Thoms said of the CCIA. "And it’s been a great assistance to the 6th Judicial District’s programs. … I think Gary’s a visionary, and I think this community owes him a lot."
In recent years, the CCIA also has raised funds to build a four-building, 26-unit residential complex next to its correctional campus where offenders and their families can readjust to the community together.
Hinzman joined the Cedar Rapids Police Department in 1970 and rose to the position of police chief in 1985 at age 37. As chief — the youngest at the department since 1916 — he said he raised educational requirements for police officers, established an officer mentoring program for police rookies and expanded the department’s use of what was then its signature helicopter fleet. Hinzman, who holds a master’s degree in public administration from Iowa State University, had flown copters for the department.
By 1989, Hinzman and the city’s new elected public safety commissioner, who had been serving as a police patrol officer under Hinzman, had a falling out. Hinzman was returned to the rank of captain, the City Council continued to pay him as if he were still police chief, and he soon departed for the corrections post.
Today, the 6th Judicial District Department of Community Corrections, which serves Linn, Johnson, Benton, Jones, Iowa and Tama counties, has 190 employees and between 4,200 and 4,500 clients in the programs of pretrial release, probation, parole, pre-prison residential treatment and post-prison residential treatment.
In his 24 years at the helm of the department, Hinzman said community corrections departments have learned much about working to change the behavior of people who have committed crimes.
"When we’re done with somebody, if you want punishment, they get it because they’ve been here or in prison," Hinzman said. "But when we return them, (the public) wants us to do something with them to return them safely. They don’t want them worse."
Hinzman said reducing crime requires that communities take note of the "school-dropout-to-prison pipeline" and the higher risk for children of prison inmates to end up in prison, too.
"I think crime will always be with us to some extent," Hinzman said. "But I think to throw up our hands in disgust and say, ‘Well, let’s just … lock them up for a few years, that will teach them a good lesson …. I think we need to figure out how we prevent crime victimization in the first place."
Hinzman has served as president of the American Probation and Parole Association and vice president of the National Association of Probation Executives.He plans to continue his work with the non-profit Community Corrections Improvement Association. He also will do some teaching and has been asked to help Mount Mercy University establish a master’s degree program in criminal justice.