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Fewer inmates are being sent back to prison in Iowa, says new data

The recidivism rate dropped 1.7 percentage points from the previous state calendar year

By Erin Murphy
The Gazette

IOWA — The rate of inmates who reoffended and returned to Iowa’s state correctional facilities dropped for a second consecutive year after five years of increases, the director of the state corrections department said Friday.

In the state calendar year that ended on June 30, 37 percent of inmates who were sentenced to a state correctional facility had served a separate, prior sentence in the previous three years, according to state data.

That recidivism rate was a drop of 1.7 percentage points from the previous state calendar year, and a reduction of 2.8 percentage points over the past two years, according to state data.

The two consecutive years of decreases in the state’s recidivism rate follow five consecutive years of increases, Iowa Department of Corrections director Beth Skinner said Friday during recording for this weekend’s episode of " Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS.

“That is because our staff has worked so hard to do evidence-based practices, have fidelity to the work they do, their commitment, their passion for people to have second chances, knowing they’re going back in their communities,” Skinner said. “They’ve done a lot of work. We’ve had a lot of plate spinning. We’ve executed a lot, and that’s why we’re seeing that success.”

Skinner was appointed director of the state corrections department in 2019 by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. Before that, she had worked for a national think tank that specialized in reducing recidivism rates in prisons.

Skinner said the state is implementing the recommendations made in an independent report on the March 2021 killings of a nurse and a correctional officer during an attempted prisoner escape at the state correctional facility in Anamosa. The report was published in December.

Skinner said the department has hired an additional 85 full-time employees statewide and is attempting to hire more. She said the department also has added compliance and training offices and a security summit, hired a recruitment retention specialist to attract and retain workers, and added canines.

Staffing issues were raised in the immediate wake of the incident in Anamosa.

“I want to give kudos to our administration and our staff. They have worked endlessly to make sure we make the recommendation that (the report) made ... that we executed those recommendations,” Skinner said. “It’s only been over a year, and we’ve put all these pieces into place.”

Skinner said the state also has made changes to the apprenticeship program that has inmates using tools while working on projects. The program is designed to give inmates skills that will help them find work once their sentence is completed.

The individuals who killed the two prison staffers in 2021 used a hammer, according to state officials.

Now, inmates are assessed and must be deemed eligible to handle tools in any such program, Skinner said.

“Anyone that’s going to carry a tool ... has to be run through that assessment. And some people are not able to carry tools,” Skinner said.

“Iowa Press” airs on Iowa PBS at 7 p.m. Friday and noon Sunday, and can be viewed any time at

(c)2022 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Visit The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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