How the Iowa Department of Corrections is addressing racial disparities

Iowa has long had one of the country’s worst racial disparities in the criminal justice system. A 2016 report by Ashley Nellis for The Sentencing Project showed the incarceration rate for African Americans in Iowa was the fourth-highest among the 50 states, with approximately one in seventeen adult black males imprisoned. Iowa ranked third-worst in the nation for racial disparity, with an incarceration rate for African Americans eleven times higher than the rate for white people.

Over the past year, the Iowa Department of Corrections has formally recognized the problem and its responsibility to provide a bias-free environment for incarcerated individuals and those in community-based corrections programs. The department has also taken several concrete steps to improve staff training and identify possible sources of racial disparities.

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Iowa campaign regulator searching for new executive director

The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board will soon hire a new executive director. Megan Tooker, who has held the position since December 2010, is leaving to pursue unspecified new opportunities, she told Bleeding Heartland on November 4.

The ethics board is one of the smallest state agencies and enforces Iowa law on campaign finance disclosures, government ethics and lobbying the executive branch, and gifts to public officials.

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Iowa governor names group to steer criminal justice reform efforts

Fourteen people representing a “diverse group of stakeholders” will recommend policies to reduce recidivism and racial disparities in Iowa’s criminal justice system, Governor Kim Reynolds announced on November 4.

Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg, a former state public defender, will chair the Governor’s FOCUS Committee on Criminal Justice Reform, which will meet for the first time on November 7. FOCUS stands for “Fueling Ongoing Collaboration and Uncovering Solutions.” The other members are:

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Questions and answers: Jerry Foxhoven's wrongful termination claim

Former Iowa Department of Human Services director Jerry Foxhoven revealed more details about his wrongful termination claim on August 1. He asserts that he was fired after expressing concern about the DHS continuing to pay a large share of the salary for the governor’s deputy chief of staff, Paige Thorson.

As Bleeding Heartland reported last week, Thorson worked extensively on Medicaid-related issues for some time, but she became less involved with the DHS this spring, as Governor Kim Reynolds brought on a new health policy adviser.

Foxhoven and his attorney Tom Duff released a written statement and answered many follow-up questions during a 45-minute news conference. Radio Iowa posted the full audio. The questions and answers below are not a transcript from the conference, but rather my effort to put information about Foxhoven’s case in context for readers.

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Jerry Foxhoven to claim wrongful termination, retaliation

Jerry Foxhoven will pursue legal action claiming retaliation and wrongful termination as director of the Iowa Department of Human Services, Ryan Foley was first to report for the Associated Press on July 31. His attorney, Tom Duff, told the AP

that Foxhoven objected to a request to continue to have his agency fund most of the salary of the governor’s deputy chief of staff, Paige Thorson. Duff says that Foxhoven believed the arrangement made sense when he approved it in 2018. But he said that, by June, Foxhoven believed Thorson was no longer furthering the agency’s interests.

Duff plans to release a more detailed statement at an August 1 news conference, his office told Iowa reporters today.

As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, Thorson had handled health policy for the governor’s office since late 2017, but Governor Kim Reynolds brought Liz Matney over from the DHS this spring to be her health policy advisor.

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