Iowa Officials: Too Many Ex-Offenders Return to Prison
The Des Moines Register
By Kathy A. Bolten
Deb Theeler spent 52 months in prison in the early 2000s — only to find out when she was paroled that re-entering society was almost as hard as doing time.
“Prison was not my punishment,” Theeler, 56, a former Iowa Correctional Institution for Women inmate who now mentors ex-offenders. “Re-entry was my punishment. Re-entry — unless you’ve done it — is a painful process.”
She told her story Tuesday to the 140 people who attended Iowa’s first Recidivism Reduction Summit, held at the Iowa State Capitol.
Iowa is one of five states that received a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The money, which will be dispersed over three years, will be used to help reduce recidivism rates for adult offenders.
Thirty percent of Iowa’s ex-offenders return to prison, according to the Iowa Department of Corrections’ March report. The state’s goal is to use the federal grant to help reduce the recidivism rate by 30 percent in five years, or 9 percentage points. Iowa’s recidivism rate dropped by only 1.6 percent between 2000 and 2009, department data shows.
Jerry Bartruff, Iowa Department of Corrections director, said reducing the recidivism rate will save the state money. The department’s annual budget is an estimated $378 million.
Theeler was among the 14 people who spoke at the summit, attended by state employees, community members, educators and elected officials.
Several speakers talked about the importance of various state agencies and organizations working together to make re-entry into society easier for ex-offenders. Theeler said when she was released from prison, she had a job, mentors and family who helped her re-adjust.
Still, she said, the process wasn’t easy.
“Something still made me have thoughts at certain times that it would be easier just to go back to prison.” Theeler said that when she was released in 2003, she had to find resources to help her re-adjust herself. While some of that process has changed, it’s still difficult, she said.
“There’s ways to make it less painful,” she said of the re-entry process.
Ninety-five percent of the people currently incarcerated will eventually be released, Iowa’s Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds said. Improving programs for job training, education, mental health and drug-use rehabilitation will help make their re-entry go more smoothly, she said.
If the improvements are made, Iowa will be a safer place to live, Reynolds said.