April 23, 2014

Complaints about prisons top list for Ombudsman in 2012

The annual report from the state Ombudsman shows the office received almost 4,500 complaints in 2012, around the same amount as 2011. Ombudsman, Ruth Cooperider, found that just over 3,000 of the complaints fell under the jurisdiction of her office.

“Probably about a third of those would dealing with matters concerning the correctional system, whether it’s prisons or jails or community-based facilities. Because we do have jurisdiction to investigate complaints regarding those facilities, so we do get contacts from offenders or inmates,” Cooperider explains.

Second on the list for common complaints are human services concerns. “The wide range of issues dealing with child support, public assistance programs, Medicaid, just anything dealing with human services programs,” Cooperider says.

Cooperider says complaints about local and county governments rounds out the top three when it comes to the type of complaints they receive. About half of the complaints don’t move ahead to be investigated.

“It’s not necessarily that we don’t think they have merit, but under our statute we do have the ability to refer people maybe to an existing process,” Cooperider says. “For instance, if an inmate has a grieveable issue and they have not filed a grievance on that issue, we typically will refer them to that grievance process to try and seek a remedy there first. And if they are still not satisfied, they can come back to us.”

Cooperider says her annual report includes eight steps for people to resolve their own complaints before calling her office. She says that’s sometimes called “coaching” in the ombudsman community, where they give tips and information on where to go and how to present the issue.

“And I think in some ways we are doing a services to them in how to negotiate government, not only on that issue, but in the future,” according to Cooperider.

You can see the Ombudsman’s 2012 Annual Report online at: www.legis.iowa.gov/Ombudsman

You can call the Ombudsman’s office with a compliant at:1-888-426-6283, or 515-281-3592 in the Des Moines area.