Sex offender parole rates rising

Number of lifetime sentences expected to continue growing

The results of a polygraph are shown at the Sixth Judicial District's Johnson County Office in Coralville on Monday, Aug
The results of a polygraph are shown at the Sixth Judicial District's Johnson County Office in Coralville on Monday, August 11, 2014. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette-KCRG-TV9 TV9)

The number of sex offenders receiving treatment while living outside of prison walls on parole in Iowa is expected to almost double in two years.

That is a far greater rate than the 68 percent increase in the past six years, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections 2013 Annual Report.

Moreover, lifetime parole sentences for sex offenders are expected to triple within the next seven years, the department report said. And the number of lifetime sentences will keep rising until at least 2023, according to the Iowa Sex Offender Research Council, a group of criminal justice experts who research policies and sex offense trends.

“That ought to be sending up red flags and bells and whistles to get people to say, 'What's going on?'” said Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 61, which represents the state's probation parole officers.

Sex offenders are required to serve what state law deems “special sentences” for a minimum of 10 years or up to a lifetime after serving their criminal sentence — although some limited exceptions can occur.

The offender serves parole for the special sentence, which can include electronic monitoring, psychological evaluations, cognitive therapy, group therapy and individualized attention, or a combination of those services.

The number of offenders on special sentence supervision has grown by more than six times since fiscal 2009, a report earlier this year by the Iowa Sex Offender Research Council said.

The state appropriated an additional $947,744 for fiscal 2015 to hire 14 probation parole officers specifically for sex offenders. Resources for probation, parole and electronic monitoring — part of the community-based correctional system — could be strained without continuation of that funding.

Community-based corrections received a $90.3 million state appropriation for this budget year, up from $87.4 million in fiscal 2014 and $83.4 million in fiscal 2013.

John Baldwin, director of the Iowa Department of Corrections, said he does not expect higher caseloads for probation parole officers because the governor and Legislature annually have funded the demand for services. The community-based corrections budget rose sharply until 2009, then took a dip, and has been growing since 2011.

But AFSCME's Homan disagrees.

“That's not enough,” he said. “We're not supervising people — that's just a shuffling of the papers. They (probation parole officers) try as hard as they can, but they're supervising so many people that they can't do an adequate job.”

The Iowa Sex Offender Research Council projects the 2013 caseload of 3,480 people on parole to increase to 5,150 by 2023, with half of those having special sentences.

“That's just a lot of people to try to supervise,” said Steve Michael, interim administrator for the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning division in the Iowa Department of Human Rights. “And unfortunately, the supervision cannot be there if you have that many people on your caseload as a parole officer.”

Community-based corrections

Since fiscal 2009, community-based corrections has had one staffer for every 27 community-based offenders, or close to that ratio, department fiscal reports showed.

Maintaining that ratio will mean keeping up with special sentence parole caseloads that could increase an anticipated 78 percent in 10 years, with much of the increase coming from lifetime supervision, the Iowa Sex Offender Research Council report projected.

Homan of AFSCME said the need to give sex offenders intense supervision could overburden probation parole officers.

“The department is admitting it is going to be releasing people back into society who are going to require more supervision, and are going to be put on parole-probation officers who probably already have too high of caseloads,” Homan said.

But Baldwin of Iowa Department of Corrections said caseloads are not too high, nor does he expect them to get too high in the future — although he said the department has no choice but to live with the money the state provides.

Disagreement exists on how well Iowa does at keeping sex offenders from reoffending.

Lettie Prell, research director for the Iowa Department of Corrections, said sex offenders who successfully complete programming have less than 1 percent recidivism for another sex offense when tracked over roughly four years. That number jumps to nearly 6 percent for offenders who refuse, or don't complete, the treatment.

But the sex offender recidivism rate for all crimes, including non-sexual, jumps to 16.7 percent for offenders who completed treatment and to 35.4 percent for those who don't complete treatment, the Sex Offender Research Council reports.

Also, the number of offenders who went to prison for special sentence revocations has nearly quadrupled over the past five fiscal years.

Baldwin said Iowa's sex offender programs are up to par for reducing recidivism.

“We do that as well as any state, but no state bats 1,000,” he said. “Our staff does an exceptional job helping to reduce future victimization.”

Recidivism rates don't indicate whether a sex offender will reoffend because 60 percent of sexual assaults in the United States go unreported, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the largest anti-sexual assault organization in the nation.

Moreover, successfully prosecuting a sex offender is difficult. The same network reports that:

l 4 of every 10 sex offenses are reported to the police.

l 4 of every 50 get prosecuted.

l 4 of every 100 lead to a felony conviction.

Homan took the concern a step further.

“I think it is extremely rare when you can rehabilitate a pedophile,” he said. “There's just not enough staff out there to make sure that the public is protected.”

l Comments: 319-368-8989; This story was coproduced with Iowa Center for Public Affairs, a not-for-profit, online news website that collaborates with Iowa news organizations to produce explanatory and investigative reporting.

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