Facts and Policy Reforms for Iowa
As in most states, the prison population in Iowa has exploded in recent decades.
Between 1980 and 2016, the state’s prison population more than tripled, and by September 2018, more than 8,500 people were imprisoned in the state. If no reforms are enacted to change the course ofincarceration rates in Iowa, it is projected that the state will imprison more than 10,000 people by 2027.
In 2017, the majority (two-thirds) of new prison admissions in Iowa were for nonviolent offenses such as drug, property, and public order crimes. Drug offenses in particular accounted for one quarter of new admissions that year. Readmissions to prison – such as returns from parole and work release – are also a major driver of Iowa’s prison population, accounting for one in every three admissions to Iowa prisons in 2017.
Unsurprisingly, Iowa’s mass incarceration crisis has had an enormous impact on people of color, especially Black people. In 2014, the imprisonment rate of Black people in Iowa was the fourth highest in the country, and in 2017, the imprisonment rate of Black adults was nearly 11 times higher than that of white adults. Further, the imprisonment rate of Latino adults that year (494 per 100,000) was nearly double that of white adults.
The population of women in Iowa prisons is also growing at an alarming rate: Between 1990 and 2016, the number of women incarcerated in the state nearly quadrupled, growing more than twice as fast as the male population over the same period.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Iowa can dramatically reduce its prison population by implementing just a few sensible reforms:
- Decriminalizing drug possession across the state.
- Expanding social services and treatment for mental health and substance use needs.
- Reforming the pretrial system to enhance constitutional protections, and eradicatingwealth-based discrimination by restricting the use of cash bail.
- Eliminating crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparities.
- Enacting parole reform to expand access to early release.
If Iowa were to follow these and other reforms outlined in this Smart Justice 50-State Blueprint, 5,428 fewer people would be in prison in Iowa by 2025, saving over $360 million dollars that could be invested in schools, services, and other resources that would strengthen communities.
For more information, along with detailed breakdowns of Iowa’s prison population and the reforms needed to reduce it, click here.