Iowa's Chief Justice Warns Underfunding Hurts Justice

Jan 11, 2017

Iowa's chief justice is warning lawmakers that problems are already beginning to emerge due to a lack of funding to the state judicial branch. In his State of the Judiciary address this morning, Chief Justice Mark Cady told legislators to invest in critical judicial services, even in "a time of scarce financial resources."

Gov. Terry Branstad’s 2018 budget proposes $7.7 million less in funds for the judicial branch than what was requested by the chief justice.  The governor is also recommending the judiciary cut $7.7 million this year, to help the state make up for a $100 million budget shortfall due to a decline in 2017 projected tax revenues. 

But Cady says "an ounce of prevent is worth a pound of cure," citing evidence-based initiatives aimed at lowering recidivism and incarceration rates. 

"All Iowans benefit when, instead of going to prison, our programs pave the way for these Iowans to go to work every day, earn paychecks, support families and contribute to communities," says Cady.

Underfunding may lead to courthouses cutting hours, fewer resources for offender rehabilitation, and the elimination of specialty courts which serve specific populations like veterans or juveniles. Programs that increase juvenile court officers, perform risk assessments of young offenders and diversion classes also appear to be making an impact. 

"Since we started these important changes in 2009, the number of criminal offenders under the age of 21 entering Iowa's adult prison system has been cut in half," says Cady. "It is a return on investment in our shared commitment to protect Iowa's children." 

In order to contain costs the judiciary put a moratorium on the expansion of specialty courts, established a hiring freeze, and reduced travel. Ninety-six percent of the judiciary's budget is personnel.