Governor Tom Vilsack warns the state will have to expand its prison system next year if legislators don’t enact some sentencing reforms. Vilsack says the state’s prisons are approaching 130-percent of capacity, and once that level is reached a federal judge could order Iowa to take steps to fix the over-crowding, including the construction of a new prison, regardless of the cost. Vilsack’s growing frustrated with lawmakers for failing to endorse any sentencing reform to ease the overcrowding. Vilsack says there seems to be an unwillingness to confront the issue, and he says the state will be confronted with quite a challenge next year when the Board of Corrections reports there’s no more room in the state’s prison system.Vilsack says the state will be forced to consider expanding prisons at a time when it’s hard to get the money together to pay for the prisons the state already has. Vilsack says that’s why it makes sense to look at sentencing reform.Vilsack says he’s “shocked” lawmakers weren’t willing to at least do a minimal level of sentencing reform. Vilsack says the only change lawmakers appear willing to make would actually put more people in prison because it’d make the penalty for using or dealing powdered cocaine as tough as for selling or taking crack. And Vilsack is worried about proposed cuts in substance abuse counseling, which he says keeps people from getting in so deep that they commit crimes to support their habit. Vilsack says lawmakers are so concerned about the political consequences of appearing to be soft on crime they’re creating other problems that’ll boost crime rates rather than reduce them.
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