Iowa prison population expected to grow by more than a third over the next decade

Anamosa State Penitentary -- photo by J. Stephen Conn
Anamosa State Penitentiary is located about 25 miles northeast of Cedar Rapids. — photo by J. Stephen Conn

Iowa’s prison population will grow by more than a third over the next decade if current policies remain in place, according to a new study.

The report from the state government’s Human Rights department pointed to some progress on this issue (prison populations dipped a few years back and recent parole reforms could prove helpful) but warns the state will surpassed its prison capacity next year with more than 8,300 inmates. By 2024, that number could balloon to more than 11,000.

The drug war is at least part of the problem. The number of drug offenders coming into Iowa’s prisons peaked in 2005 with about 1,200 admissions — a full 30 percent of incoming prisoners that year. Drug admissions declined for a few years after that, but have spiked back up to around 1,000 annually for the past three years.

The authors of the report say the state should re-examine its drug policy and consider whether offenders can be “handled more effectively elsewhere or, perhaps, handled in prison for shorter periods of time.” They also question mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, saying such policies aren’t shown to reduce repeat offending.

Iowa is just a small part of part of a the United States’ incarceration crisis. With at least 1.5 million prisoners, America has the world’s largest prison population. Not even China or India — countries with more than a billion residents — put more people behind bars.

A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch showed federal prison numbers have grown over 700 percent since 1980; state prison numbers have grown over 240 percent since 1985.

The Human Rights Watch report also found the prison industry is disproportionately impacting men and minorities: Black women are incarcerated at more than twice the rate as white women; white men are incarcerated at about 9 times the rate as white women; and black men are incarcerated at about 4 times the rate as white men.

Read the full report.

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