On the heels of a report showing the number of women in Iowa prisons grew far faster than the total of men behind bars, the state’s Commission on the Status of Women says judges, not lawmakers, should decide sentences. Commission chair Kim Painter says minimum prison sentences passed into law in recent years get much of the blame for exploding inmate numbers. She says it affects both women and men, but may have a heavier impact on people with less money to hire lawyers. Just as important, Painter points out the bottom line…that prison overcrowding is a matter of dollars and cents. As the state’s finances have gone downhill, she says “strange bedfellows have emerged,” different groups that all want to take a long look at the pressure from mandatory sentencing. Painter says the commission is concerned not only about money, but about the impact on Iowa families who bare split up by long prison stays.She says the Commission on the Status of Women has strong alliances with groups that work with prisoners and women in the rehabilitation system. And Painter adds if prison spending can be brought under control, there will be more money for other target programs like teen pregnancy prevention and help for victims of domestic violence.
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