The number of sex offenders receiving treatment while living outside of prison walls on parole in Iowa towns is expected to almost double in two years.
The dramatic increase is adding pressure for financial resources and people to supervise sex offenders on parole, a joint IowaWatch and Gazette investigation revealed.
While the Iowa Department of Corrections says the risk of each offender depends on the individual, research by several groups suggests that sex offenders require more intense supervision than other offenders. Moreover, sex offenders in Iowa must adhere to required post-release treatment and supervision that puts demands on the state to have enough corrections officials for that programming.
Relief does not appear to be imminent. Lifetime parole and probation sentences for sex offenders in Iowa are expected to triple in the next seven years, the Department of Corrections report said.
Moreover, the number of lifetime sentences will keep rising until at least 2023, or until that time when the number of people in the system who are dying in a given year equals the number of new offenders entering lifetime supervision, according to the Iowa Sex Offender Research Council. The council is a group of criminal justice experts who research policies and sex offense trends.
“That ought to be sending up red flags and bells and whistles to get people to say ‘what’s going on?’” said Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 61, which represents the state’s probation parole officers.
Part of the mix for sex offenders is that they are required to serve, with some limited exceptions, what state law calls “special sentences” for a minimum of 10 years or up to a lifetime after serving their criminal sentence. The offender serves parole for the special sentence, which can include electronic monitoring, psychological evaluations, cognitive therapy, group therapy and individualized attention, or a combination of those services.
The number of offenders on special sentence supervision has grown by more than six times since fiscal 2009, a report earlier this year by the Iowa Sex Offender Research Council revealed.
The state appropriated an additional $947,744 for this budget year, which started July 1, to hire 14 probation parole officers specifically for sex offenders.
The Department of Corrections doesn’t keep track of how much of the budget goes specifically toward sex offenders because probation parole officers can have mixed-offender caseloads. Resources for probation, parole and electronic monitoring, part of the community-based correctional system, could be strained without continuation of that funding.
Community-based corrections received a $90.3 million state appropriation for this budget year, up from $87.4 million in fiscal 2014 and $83.4 million in fiscal 2013.
John Baldwin, director of the Iowa Department of Corrections, said he does not expect higher caseloads for probation parole officers because the governor and Legislature have funded annually the demand for services. The community-based corrections budget rose until 2009, then took a dip, but has been growing since 2011.
“That’s not enough,” he said. “We’re not supervising people, that’s just a shuffling of the papers. They (probation parole officers) try as hard as they can, but they’re supervising so many people that they can’t do an adequate job.”
The Iowa Sex Offender Research Council projects the 2013 caseload of 3,480 people on parole to increase to 5,150 by 2023, with half of those having special sentences.
“That’s just a lot of people to try to supervise,” said Steve Michael, interim administrator for the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning division in the Iowa Department of Human Rights. “And unfortunately, the supervision cannot be there if you have that many people on your caseload as a parole officer. It’s a large number of parolees for a parole officer to have.”
The corrections department averages it spends $14.86 a day to supervise a sex offender, compared to $3.35 a day for offenders in community-based supervision who have committed other crimes, according to the Sex Offender Research Council.
Based on these numbers, the council anticipates special sentences to cost $14.1 million per year. That could mount even higher because of GPS monitoring rates, which add another $6.05 per day.
STAFFING IN COMMUNITY-BASED CORRECTIONS
The state’s staffing levels for community-based corrections over the past five years have stayed relatively consistent with the community offender population. Since fiscal 2009, the corrections department has had one staffer for every 27 offenders, or close to that ratio, in community-based corrections, department fiscal reports show.
Maintaining that ratio will mean keeping up with special sentence parole caseloads that could increase an anticipated 78 percent in 10 years, with much of the increase coming from lifetime supervision, the Iowa Sex Offender Research Council report projected.
“It’s like being a teacher,” said Cheri Nolan, managing director of Federal Prison Consultants, an Ocala, Florida, which assists criminals with going through the process of being on probation or parole. “The more students they have the less effective they think they can be. So it’s the same thing with inmates. The more inmates you have the supervise the more difficult it’s going to be.”
Homan said the need to give sex offenders intense supervision could overburden probation parole officers.
“The department is admitting it is going to be releasing people back into society who are going to require more supervision, and are going to be put on parole-probation officers who probably already have too high of caseloads,” Homan said.
But corrections Director Baldwin said caseloads are not too high, nor does he expect them to get too high in the future, although he said the department also has no choice but to live with the money the state provides.
Baldwin said his department constantly looks for ways to improve staffing efficiency. “We have very challenging people under our supervision, both in the institutions and in the community, and the staff does an exceptional job of managing risk,” he said. “Our business is a risk business.”
The corrections department uses a formula for determining how many cases to give each officer so that an officer with intensive supervision offenders has fewer offenders to supervise than an officer with more low-risk offenders, Baldwin said.
Lettie Prell, research director for the Iowa Department of Corrections, said the supervision levels are determined by a combination of standardized risk assessments and the offender’s behavior while under supervision.
AFTER PRISON: COMMUNITY-BASED CORRECTIONS
Sex offender programming continues in community-based corrections after offenders leave on parole from the Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility that serves as the hub for sex offender treatment. Parole can vary, depending upon which of Iowa’s eight judicial districts you are in.
“We can, then, get kind of a jump-start to treating them in the community because the prisons have done a lot of that leg work for us,” said Tony Tatman, clinical services director for Iowa’s Fifth Judicial District.
Tatman said community-based corrections employ programming methods similar to Mount Pleasant’s. But, he said, community corrections is double faceted, consisting of a treatment component and a supervision component, such as parole or probationary monitoring.
The Sixth Judicial District is working under a three-phase model for sex offender treatment and supervision. Cole, the district’s residential correctional supervisor, said the rest of the state is moving toward this same model.
The first phase consists of assessments of the individual’s physiological state, sexual history, decision-making skills and traits that could lead to violent behavior.
The sex offender then undergoes primary treatment and monitoring in the second phase. In the Sixth Judicial District, offenders get separated into two tracks: for low risk and elevated risk offenders. Finally, the offenders finish the third phase with aftercare and maintenance.
KEEPING OFFENDERS FROM REPEATING
Disagreement exists on how well Iowa does at keeping sex offenders from re-offending.
Prell, the Iowa Department of Corrections research director, said Iowa’s recidivism rate for sex offenders is among the lowest of all offenders released in the state.
She said offenders who successfully complete the program have less than 1 percent recidivism for another sex offense when tracked over roughly four years. That number jumps to nearly 6 percent for offenders who refuse, or don’t complete, the treatment.
But the number of offenders who went to prison for special sentence revocations has nearly quadrupled over the last five fiscal years, the Sex Offender Research Council reports. And the sex offender recidivism rate for all crimes, including non-sexual crimes, jumps to 16.7 percent for offenders who completed treatment and up to 35.4 percent for those who don’t complete treatment.
Baldwin said Iowa’s sex offender programs are up to par for reducing recidivism. “We do that as well as any state, but no state bats 1,000,” he said. “Our staff does an exceptional job helping to reduce future victimization.”
Recidivism rates don’t indicate whether or not a sex offender will reoffend. Some 60 percent of sexual assaults in the United States go unreported, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the largest anti-sexual assault organization in the nation.
Moreover, that network reports that only four of every 10 sex offenses get reported to the police, four of every 50 get prosecuted, and four of every 100 lead to a felony conviction.
“Sex abuse cases are some of the least reported and least convicted cases in law enforcement,” said Terry Cowman, a former sex offender registry special agent in charge for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation who now is executive officer with the state Department of Public Safety. “And that’s certainly something that we need to pay attention to.”
Homan took the concern a step further.
“I think it is extremely rare when you can rehabilitate a pedophile,” Homan said. “There’s just not enough staff out there to make sure that the public is protected.”
DIFFICULTY PROSECUTING SEX CRIMES