Legislative Efforts – 2012

Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners is a member of the Justice Reform Consortium (JRC).

JRC advocates for reasonable public policies, programs, and treatment which would serve to reduce the prison population, move offenders back into society as citizens helpful to themselves and others, and thereby protect the public safety. The public policy firm of Fawkes-Lee & Ryan (FL & R) lobbies on behalf of JRC.

In 2011, the following legislation was supported, opposed, or monitored by FL & R for JRC.

HF173: An Act restricting the use of restraints on a pregnant prisoner in labor. JRC SUPPORTED this legislation.  HF 173 failed to pass out of the House Public Safety Subcommittee of Reps. Tom Shaw (R-Laurens), Chair; Joel Fry (R-Osceola), and Ruth Ann Gaines (D-Des Moines).  Senate File 101 by Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque) is another bill “prohibiting the use of restraints on a pregnant inmate in labor.”  SF 101 did not move beyond a Senate Judiciary subcommittee.

The following is from a position paper of the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women.  JRC agrees with the position of the ICSW.

The Iowa Commission on the Status of Women supports the curtailment of restraints or shackles used by state correctional facilities, detention, or jails on pregnant inmates or pregnant juveniles during labor, delivery, or recovery unless it is deemed necessary by administrators to protect the health and safety of the inmate, the child, officers, or a member of the public, or unless the woman poses a substantial escape risk.

The following information supporting the curtailment of shackling pregnant adult and juvenile inmates while they are in labor is from the National Women’s Law Center’s “Mothers Behind Bars” Report (2010). Iowa received a composite report card grade of “C-.” For instance, Iowa was rated high on family- based treatment alternatives to incarceration and low on not having protections in policy against unnecessary shackling of pregnant inmates during labor.

The dangerous practice of shackling pregnant women is being reconsidered and in many cases prohibited due to both proven and potential harm to the mother and child. Restraints make it difficult for doctors to adequately assess the condition of the mother and the fetus, and to provide prompt medical intervention when necessary. Restraints also make the process of labor and delivery more painful. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) in September 2008 ended shackling pregnant inmates as a matter of routine in all federal correctional facilities.  State legislatures and departments of corrections have begun to respond to the consensus against shackling. Most recently, California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia have enacted laws prohibiting the practice of shackling pregnant women.  While there is no systematic documentation at the state or federal level of how many women give birth while incarcerated, in 2007, the Bureau of Justice Statistics stated that, on average, five percent of women who enter into state prisons are pregnant and six percent of women in jails are pregnant.

Yet some prisons continue to use restraints on women in labor and delivery as a matter of course, regardless of a woman’s history of violence, whether she has ever absconded or attempted to escape, or her state of consciousness. In October 2007, both the BOP and U.S. Marshals agreed to the cessation of “belly shackles “or shackles that constrict the stomach area of pregnant women, regardless of the trimester of pregnancy, unless they can show a legitimate security justification.


HF 623:  An Act relating to the treatment of benefits for individuals committed to certain public institutions including medical assistance, social security, and supplemental security income benefits. JRC SUPPORTED this bill.  It would allow for the suspension of benefits while incarcerated for a brief period of time.  Currently, a person’s benefits are terminated and the person must go through the process of enrolling again.  The issue was originally introduced as HF 106 by Heddens.  It became HF 623 in the process of moving from committee to the House Debate Calendar.  It was never debated and returns to the Committee on Human Resources.  It will be eligible again in 2012.

SF259:  An Act relating to mental health and substance abuse histories conducted in a presentence investigation report and the standards for release on probation in a criminal proceeding. JRC SUPPORTED the passage of this legislation. SF 259 was passed by the Senate 50-0 on March 7; it passed the House 97-0 on March 22; and signed into law by the governor on March 30.

This bill is a submission by the Iowa Bar Association.  During subcommittee meetings there were concerns from the Iowa Psychiatric Society and other mental health professionals about the disclosure of mental health histories.  Several representatives of the Bar Association and representatives of mental health organizations, along with a state representative in the profession, came up with language that protects the integrity and confidentiality of the defendant and the mental health and substance abuse profession.  The purpose of the act was not be compromised, and the purpose is to allow judges to have information at their hands that will be helpful in sentencing options – particularly when the defendant will benefit from substance abuse or mental health treatment that may be available in the community.

During a subcommittee meeting in the House, Rep. Heaton brought up the need for mental health assessments to be done on offenders, but the Department of Corrections (DOC) advised that there isn’t money for it.

HF280: An Act relating to earned time accrual by an inmate at a correctional institution of the department of corrections. JRC SUPPORTED this bill.  If enacted, this bill would have increased the amount of earned time an inmate receives for good behavior from the current 1.2 days per every day served to one and one-half days.  The bill was never considered by a House Judiciary subcommittee.

HF 614:  An Act relating to sexual misconduct committed by employees and agents of the department of corrections and judicial district departments of correctional services, and providing a penalty. JRC SUPPORTED this legislation. HF 614 passed the House 86-12 on March 21.  It was assigned to a subcommittee in the Senate, but the subcommittee never met.

HSB175 and SSB 1073: Companion bills introduced by the Iowa Judicial Branch relating to interpreters and translators for limited English proficient participants in legal proceedings and in court-ordered programs. JRC SUPPORTED this legislation.  A subcommittee meeting was held in the Senate, but that’s as far as this proposal got.

SSB1008: An Act exempting offenders committed to institutions administered by the department of corrections from the prohibitions relating to unfair employment practices under the state’s civil rights law. JRC OPPOSED this measure. Discrimination should not be allowed – anywhere!

The Iowa Attorney General (AG), using the Department of Corrections (DOC) as a surrogate, introduced this bill because they lost a court case, Renda v. Iowa Civil Rights Commission. The question in play is should the DOC be added to a very short list of exceptions to the “Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965”, thereby allowing the DOC to discriminate against offenders based on sex, race, color, religion, etc. for employment purposes?  The following points were made in this case:

“…the legislature is well aware that many inmates work within correctional settings and that certain worker-related provisions may apply to them unless they are expressly excluded or exempted. The fact that the legislature did not provide an explicit exception for inmates within the Act leads us to believe that the legislature did not intend one.”

May an Inmate Be an “Employee”? The Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in employment. Iowa Code § 216.6. An employee is defined broadly as “any person employed by an employer.” Id. § 216.2(6). Employer is defined as “the state of Iowa or any political subdivision, board, commission, department, institution, or school district thereof, and every other person employing employees within the state.” Id. § 216.2(7). Several categories of employers and employees are exempted from the discrimination prohibitions, including employers of fewer than four employees, employees who work within the employer’s home, employees hired to perform personal services for the employer’s family members, and bona fide religious institutions in certain situations. Id. § 216.6(6) (a)–(d). No explicit exception exists for inmates of correctional facilities—in fact, inmates are not mentioned at all in the statute. Given the sheer breadth of the definitions of “employee” and “employer” and the fact that the few exclusions that are identified are extremely narrow, we are inclined to start from the premise that inmates may be considered employees unless some compelling reason exists to convince us that the legislature meant to exclude them despite utilizing such expansive language.

The AG and DOC want to exclude these offenders, telling legislators that they just wouldn’t be able to handle an imagined onslaught of discrimination complaints.  The Iowa Citizens’ Aide/Ombudsman, who deals with these complaints, stated that she does not anticipate any increase in complaints and is currently registered against this bill.

Another important point made in this case was that “Prison is in many ways a society separate from the outside world. Discrimination, however, maintains the same invidious character within the world of the prison and outside of it. Given the broad policies behind Title VII, there would appear to be no reason to withhold Title VII’s protections from extending inside the prison walls.”

Sadly, there is a large pool of minorities and women inside the prison walls in Iowa.  Also, we continue to struggle with discrimination in the workplace outside the prison walls.  If we can’t uphold our anti-discrimination laws in a controlled environment with a large pool of minorities and women, such as our correctional system, what chance do we have of ever stopping discrimination in the United States of America?

HF659 (formerly House Study Bill 218), was introduced on Friday, March 25.  Essentially, the bill requires the Iowa Prison Industries (IPI) to file annual, semi-annual, and quarterly reports [on different matters]; and requires Prison Industries to obtain legislative approval prior to spending its own money on capital expenditures.  The 3rd section of HSB 218 was removed in committee.  That section would have required the IPI to explain why it’s going to manufacture toilet paper and compete with a wholesaler who currently sells the product manufactured in another state to the Dept. of Corrections.  Read more hereJRC OPPOSES this legislation.

SF124: An Act relating to the criminal offense of possessing electronic contraband or failing to report electronic contraband at a jail, municipal holding facility, or correctional facility and providing penalties. JRC is UNDECIDED  A fiscal note has been attached to this bill.  SF 124 passed the Senate on March 8 by a vote of 49-0.  It passed the House 82-17 on March 29.  The governor made it law with his signature on April 5.

Legislative Efforts – 2013