116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Both chambers of the Iowa Legislature recently passed a bill backed by the Iowa Department of Corrections to clarify who can access confidential records of offenders when different agencies are providing treatment and rehabilitation to those in prison, eligible for parole, or on probation or parole.
The bill passed 96-0 in the House and 48-0 in the Senate. Cord Overton, communications director for the Iowa Department of Corrections, recently spoke with The Gazette about why the current law needed to be updated and why it was important to the department. It was the only policy bill the department pursued this year.
Q: Can you explain why the current law needed to be revised?
My understanding is that as a result of an audit conducted by the Iowa Judicial Branch administration it was found that ... for certain users of the system, employed both by community-based corrections and by the Iowa Department of Corrections, the code would need to be updated to ensure they didn't lose their access to the records system. After discussing the issue with us (DOC), we began working together to find the code sections that would need to be updated, and then began working with lawmakers. These confidential records include mental health and substance abuse treatment records and presentencing reports.
Q: How important is it that this confidential information be accessible to each agency?
Due to the nature of the work that the judicial districts' correctional services, DOC and the judicial branch of government conduct together, it is only logical that the information contained in the database be shared between the entities. Individuals, whether sentenced to probation services in the community or to incarceration and supervised by the DOC, have several records that are required to be accessed by the entity providing their supervision.
In addition to the obvious items like ensuring that court-ordered mental health, domestic abuse or substance abuse treatment services are being properly provided, there is additional information these records provide that are necessary for proper supervision.
For example, risk instruments used by both community-based corrections and the DOC to properly classify individuals under supervision require a detailed understanding and accounting of prior criminal history convictions and court-ordered supervision requirements.
Q: How would accessing these records help the Iowa Department of Corrections staff, probation and parole officers in assessing or tracking a case?
The Iowa Department of Corrections is the largest mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, sex offender treatment and domestic abuse treatment provider in the state. Having access to the records of our patients is vitally important to ensure proper treatment. And this is not a one-way street. We share information with relevant entities when necessary, such as with community-based treatment providers. Any information is shared/accessed with proper authorizations and/or waivers.
Q: Wouldn't this information pertaining to an offender's history, mental health and treatment services also help in release or probation decisions?
This information can also be helpful in release planning of an offender in ensuring that when we release someone to a particular community setting, it's one they will be most likely to succeed in. Additionally, it is not uncommon for new warrants to be issued for an individual that our staff are in the process of release planning with. In these instances, authorized staff can efficiently review the terms of the warrant, and make proper arrangements for the individual's transfer of jurisdictional authority, rather than releasing someone to the community that has an outstanding warrant somewhere.
For community-based correctional services, accessing the records maintained by the courts is important as they are the entity that is charged with ensuring that all required treatments and services are being met while someone is under their supervision in the community.
Q: The bill also would allow the parole board to access presentencing reports. Did the board members have access to those before?
This component of the bill is intended to clarify who on the parole board ... is charged with the authorization of users of the system to keep it consistent with other parts of the newly updated code. The bill would allow the board chairperson to authorize use of the report to a board member in making a parole decision. A presentencing report details history and background of offenders, as well as details of the convicted crime and the offender's account of the crime.
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