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Iowa Reconsidering Costs, Benefits of Sex Offender Supervision Law

Over the past decade more than 20 states have created “special sentences” that require community supervision for sex offenders after their release, even if they expire their prison terms. But Iowa is currently reevaluating whether the millions in taxpayer dollars spent on such post-release supervision is justified in light of the questionable results.

A January 2012 report by the Iowa Sex Offender Research Council indicates that the additional cost of monitoring an estimated 2,651 sex offenders serving special sentences will total at least $34.5 million by 2021, thanks to a strict state law.

That law, passed in 2005, requires sex offenders to be supervised and monitored with GPS tracking technology for 10 years to life after their release from prison, depending on the seriousness of their crimes.

“The special sentence, particularly lifetime supervision,” the report stated, “will increase the parole caseload by 78 percent in 10 years.”

According to Iowa’s Legislative Services Agency, the cost of treating, supervising and monitoring sex offenders cost the state $11.5 million in 2010 alone.

The report concluded that “[t]here is sufficient evidence that sex offenders and the public benefit from a period of supervision and treatment/relapse prevention support in the community, particularly after incarceration. However, the current policy of set terms of post-sentence parole is not supported by research, is not the most effective use of limited resources, and does not contribute to increased public safety.”

Iowa’s law was passed in response to public outrage over the 2005 death of Jetseta Gage, a 10-year-old Cedar Rapids girl who was murdered by a sex offender. But members of the Iowa Sex Offender Research Council want state leaders to find more effective and less expensive methods of dealing with released sex offenders.

“We’re trying to figure out policy-wise what makes the most sense to do now,” said Sally Kreamer, who heads the Fifth Judicial District’s correctional services. “Caseloads are only going to get larger and larger. If we don’t figure out some strategy soon, I’ll have to come back to my board and say, ‘What is it that you don’t want us to do anymore?’”

Kreamer noted that Iowa has been more successful than other states in monitoring sex offenders who pose the highest risk to public safety, which has resulted in lower recidivism. The risk assessments, she added, have saved thousands of dollars without increasing public safety issues.

There were 542 sex offenders in Iowa prisons in 2011, up from 507 in 2007. And those who violated parole and were returned to prison last year totaled 68, compared with only four in 2007. The state also has around 300 juvenile sex offenders.

According to state Senator Bob Dvorsky, a member of the Iowa Sex Offender Research Council, lawmakers would be wise to examine research that suggests savings can be found by treating and assessing juvenile offenders, who are becoming a larger part of Iowa’s sex offender population.

“There is more latitude in the juvenile area because they respond more easily to treatment,” Dvorsky said. “There are ways that maybe we can work with them and get them out of the system if they are identified quickly.”

In its January 2012 report, the Iowa Sex Offender Research Council recommended reforms that include a minimum number of years of post-release supervision for sex offenders, a required review of each offender’s progress and risk level after a specified number of years, and proof that an offender poses a risk of committing sexual or violent crimes before supervision is extended beyond the review date.

Sources: Des Moines Register,

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