Government

Reynolds forms group to work on making criminal justice in Iowa 'bias-free'

Governor announces effort while speaking at NAACP summit in Ankeny

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds addresses the Iowa Summit on Justice and Disparities on Tuesday on the Des Moines Area Community College campus in Ankeny. (Erin Murphy/Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds addresses the Iowa Summit on Justice and Disparities on Tuesday on the Des Moines Area Community College campus in Ankeny. (Erin Murphy/Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)

ANKENY — Gov. Kim Reynolds will form a group of stakeholders to discuss criminal justice issues in Iowa and make recommendations to the governor and state lawmakers.

Reynolds made the announcement during the Iowa chapter of the NAACP’s annual summit on justice issues, held Tuesday on the Des Moines Area Community College campus.

Reynolds said the working group will be charged with recommending ways to reduce the number of offenders who return to jail and examining ways to bring about “bias-free” criminal justice in Iowa, including through law enforcement, the courts and jails.

Iowa and other Midwest states have racial disparities in economic opportunity and economic outcomes that are wider than in other regions, according to a report published recently by the University of Iowa and Iowa Policy Project.

“Reforming our system will have a lasting legacy that today’s generation of leaders can leave for our children and grandchildren,” Reynolds said. “There are so many reasons, including story after story of lives that our system just simply failed: innocent people victimized by someone struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues, young people who made a few wrong choices early in life with tragic results, people who served their sentence but then were met by a system and a society that made it virtually impossible to find a pathway to success afterward.”

Former Gov. Terry Branstad formed a similar working group in 2015 — he also made the announcement at the annual NAACP summit — and that group made recommendations that helped inform a package of criminal justice reforms that Branstad signed into law the next year.

Reynolds, who was Branstad’s lieutenant governor from 2011 to 2017, appointed her lieutenant governor, former state public defender Adam Gregg, to head the new criminal justice working group.

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Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa and Nebraska chapter of the NAACP, said she is pleased with the announcement of the new working group.

“We are very excited about this opportunity,” Andrews said. “We have been working with the governor for some time to make this a reality. So in that work we’ve been meeting pretty tediously, and a lot in the last month about making sure that the committee is right and balanced, and that we are addressing the issues that are important to the NAACP, but not just the NAACP, all Iowans.”

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