On March 20, 2017, the Iowa House of Representatives voted to pass HF 579, a new sentencing reform bill that would build on the successful reforms implemented last year. The bill was passed unanimously and gained broad bipartisan support. It was championed by Rep. Zach Nunn, a Republican (District 30), and Rep. Rick Olson, a Democrat (District 31).

“Like so many states, Iowa is struggling to increase public safety without breaking the bank and building more prisons,” said FAMM President Kevin Ring. “The new bill hits the sweet spot. It allows judges to reserve lengthy mandatory sentences for the most dangerous people. This commonsense approach has helped other states to reduce both crime and incarceration.

“We hope the Senate will quickly consider and pass this smart reform,” Ring said.

Among other things, the bill would, if passed into law:

  1. Get rid of mandatory minimum sentences for Class C drug offenders, the lowest-level drug offenders in Iowa’s system, and allow people already in prison for those offenses to be considered for parole starting July 1, 2017.
  2. Allow courts to give sentences other than the mandatory minimum when the mandatory sentence is unjust and not needed to keep the public safe. There are more than 40 offenses to which judges cannot apply this rule. This reform would not apply to people already sentenced.
  3. Permit reconsideration of a person’s sentence for a Class A or B felony after the person has served one year in state prison. Judges or the Department of Corrections must request reconsideration of the sentence, and the judge must notify prosecutors of the reconsideration and may have a hearing, if necessary. The judge may or may not change the original sentence, and that decision cannot be appealed.
  4. Narrow Iowa’s outdated disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentencing.

HF 579 now moves to the Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration. If approved by that committee, the full Iowa Senate can vote on the legislation any time before its current legislative session ends on April 28, 2017.

Lani Prunès

Before joining Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), Lani was immersed in various advocacy fields ranging from education inequality, gun and firearm laws, and environmental justice, as well as having a hand in award-winning publications and local literary journals. As Deputy Director of Communications, she is tasked with keeping FAMM supporters up to date on the stories of prisoners and their families, the progress of reform, and how we as citizens can become change agents for those who cannot advocate for themselves.


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