Guest Columnist

Corrections enhances safety and community betterment

A probation/parole officer with the 6th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services talks with an 8th grade health class in Cedar Rapids. (Stephen Mally/Gazette Archives)
A probation/parole officer with the 6th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services talks with an 8th grade health class in Cedar Rapids. (Stephen Mally/Gazette Archives)

Chances are good you know someone who has been under some form of correctional control. According to research done by the Pew Center for the States (2009), one in every 31 adults in the United States is on probation, in jail, in prison or on parole. That is more than 7.3 million adults.

The good news is, since 2009, the overall correctional population has decreased across the nation each year — reaching a low of less than 6.7 million adults in 2016 (National Institute of Corrections, April 2018).

Better yet, the 6th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services, or 6th DCS, in Eastern Iowa has observed an even more positive trend of a 15 percent decline in probation and parole populations between 2009 and 2018.

The mission of the 6th DCS is to enhance public safety and facilitate positive change in adult offenders. The 6th DCS consists of Linn, Johnson, Jones, Benton, Iowa and Tama Counties.

Services include pretrial interviews or assessments and supervision, the preparation of presentence investigations, probation supervision, residential placement and parole supervision. Proper assessment of risk is a vital component of our work.

Research shows when lower- to moderate-risk individuals are placed in settings with higher-risk individuals, such as residential facilities or prison, their risk levels increase. Research also shows high-risk individuals require an intense amount of treatment (200 to 300 hours) in order to influence criminal drivers and to achieve risk reduction.

To be successful at our mission, the judicial system must appropriately sentence offenders to either community supervision or incarceration. According to 2018 data from the Iowa Department of Corrections, the 6th Judicial District sentences one offender to prison for every six placed on probation or parole, compared to a statewide average of one offender sent to prison to approximately three offenders on community supervision.

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Based on this data, an assumption could be made that higher-risk offenders are on probation and parole in the 6th District and, subsequently, there would be a higher rate of revocation related to new law violations or other forms of failed supervision.

Iowa Department of Corrections data does not support this assumption.

During fiscal 2018, the 6th DCS had an overall revocation rate of 6.6 percent for all offenders on community supervision.

The Iowa statewide average was 9.7 percent.

An important component to success is local control in establishing services and programs that meet the needs of the communities within the district.

Local control allows unique opportunities for innovation and a high-level of collaboration with our justice partners and human service providers. We know what works, and we are able to coordinate within our local community structures without being hindered by bureaucratic red tape at the state level.

The 6th DCS achieves success through commitments to local collaboration, staff development and the use of evidence-based approaches in service delivery. The district’s success is directly attributable to the dedication of staff members as we work toward the vision of an Iowa with no new victims.

• Bruce Vander Sanden is director of the 6th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services.

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