Staff Editorials

Geography shouldn't dictate opportunity - or justice

After delivering his eighth Condition of the Judiciary, Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady attended a reception in the former Supreme Court chambers in the Capitol Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. (Rod Boshart/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)
After delivering his eighth Condition of the Judiciary, Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady attended a reception in the former Supreme Court chambers in the Capitol Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. (Rod Boshart/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)

State residents and lawmakers were offered two exceptional — and exceptionally poignant — speeches this week to mark the start of the 2018 legislative session. We hope they were listening.

“What a country and state we live in, where a small-town girl from rural Iowa can become governor and have the opportunity to serve Iowans at the highest level,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said in the opening salvos of her Condition of the State address.

“I hope that can be an inspiration to every waitress, every grocery checker, every overworked and stressed out mom, and the little girls who dare to dream: In Iowa, if you’re willing to work for it, those dreams can come true.”

Strong applause followed that statement as well as Reynolds’ vision for Iowa to overflow with opportunity not linked to robust bank accounts or ZIP codes.

“A place where, if life got in the way of those dreams, you can find a second start. And if you’ve made mistakes, you can find a second chance,” she said.

“Because opportunity means everyone has a chance to succeed.”

It’s a vision for the Hawkeye State that we not only support, but are determined to work toward. Unfortunately, it’s also a vision that is slipping away.

“Today, Iowans who reside in rural areas are receiving fewer court services than the Iowans in urban areas,” Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady reported in his State of the Judiciary speech.

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“Today, a freeze on new specialty courts exists so that the critical services provided by a specialty court in one county are not being provided in another county. … This is not what the process of justice should be.”

Highlighted in Cady’s speech was a Polk County program, unique to Iowa and most of the U.S., for teenage girls who run afoul of the law. The girls are held accountable for their actions, and provided necessary tools to move beyond the circumstances that led to their crimes. They pay a debt to society, learn to live without drugs, receive an education and are given a second chance.

A mental health court in Scott County has offered 19 people medical assistance instead of incarceration. Those Iowans have an opportunity for a fresh start, and all Iowans have saved more than $300,000 through this single diversion program.

As Cady repeated throughout his address: “This is what the process of justice must be for all Iowans.”

From faulty technology that led to a weeklong halt of court services statewide, to the alarming number of vacant court offices, to the widening justice gap between urban and rural Iowans, underfunding of the Judicial Branch has taken its toll. Teenage girls in Clarke County deserve the same opportunities as those in Polk. An adult in Washington County ravaged by mental illness must be provided the same compassion as a resident of Scott County.

No doubt, state budget realities are harsh, but allowing some Iowans to bear a greater burden is unjust. Investments made in these and other innovative judiciary programs have a significant return on investment. They not only save funds when compared to more traditional outcomes, but they help Iowans remain contributing members of their families and communities.

With a shared vision of opportunity and justice for all, Iowa’s three branches of government can work together to end this disparity and avert the looming fiscal crisis faced by Iowa courts.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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