Criminal Justice Reform a Priority This Legislative Session

Jan 25, 2016

Nineteen states have adopted policies that leave questions about criminal history off a first round job application. Legislation to “ban the box” is now being considered in Iowa, with civil rights groups for the move, and some business leaders speaking out against it. During this hour of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Justin R. McCarthy, a welder with a felony conviction on his record, about finding work after being released from federal prison.

“It makes it really difficult for guys like me,” McCarthy explains. “There’s a recidivism rate of 85 percent in the United States. I’m one of the 15 percent who stayed out and has not gone back, but for a lot of guys who are first getting out, there are no programs. So they get thrown back to the wolves and are told, ‘Now you’re done, you’ve done your time sitting in your box, now go out and be a perfect citizen.’  They get frustrated because people don’t want to bring them in for an interview, and then they fall back into their old ways.”

State Senator Steve Sodders, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee; State Representative Bobby Kaufmann, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee; Betty Andrews, President of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP; and Iowa Public Radio Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell also join the conversation.

In addition to “ban the box” legislation, there are several other criminal justice reforms being considered this session including revising penalties for crack versus powder cocaine and lessening the penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. 

"I think Governor Branstad set the tone for criminal justice reform as a whole," says Kaufmann.