A key legislator says the state’s prisons are growing unsafe due to lowstaffing levels, and lawmakers will provide extra money in January tocorrect the problem. In-coming House Republican Leader Chuck Gipp ofDecorah says there aren’t enough prison guards. Gipp says the prisons areseverely understaffed, and it’s become a safety issue for the public and theguards who’re on duty behind prison walls. House Democrat Leader Dick Myersof Iowa City says things are nearing the breaking point. Gipp says it’s timefor sentencing reform, too, so non-violent criminals don’t get sent toalready overcrowded prisons. Republicans in the past have been reluctant toappear “soft on crime” and have opposed giving judges the discretion tosentence those who commit property and first offense drug crimes to lessexpensive settings like a half-way house or even putting ’em on parole. Gippsays he’ll encourage his fellow Republicans to consider the idea, becausethere’s no way the prisons can hold more inmates. Gipp says it’s time toput judgement back in the judicial process. Gipp says the political andfinancial realities mean legislators have to consider sentencing reform.Myers, the House Democrat Leader, says sentencing reform is a way to savetaxpayers’ money because putting criminals in a maximum- or medium-securityprison is very expensive. Myers and Gipp made their comments during tapingof the “Iowa Press” program which airs on Iowa Public Television on Fridaynight.
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