Iowa ministers will hike alongside former prison inmates through central Iowa over the next three days in the 15th annual Prisoners Awareness Walk. Participants meet in Ames at 7 o’clock this morning (Friday) and will walk about 21 miles a day along Highway 69, arriving in Indianola on Sunday afternoon. Mario Hayslett is executive director of the Des Moines-based Criminal Justice Ministries. Hayslett says the walk will focus this year on the mandatory sentencing of certain criminals, which he says is itself a crime. He says mandatory sentencing is causing severe overcrowding in Iowa’s prisons with nonviolent offenders, saying, “the sentence sometimes does not fit the crime.” When he lived in Burlington in 1998, Hayslett was convicted on a drug-related offense and did prison time. He says Iowa prisons are “Crime 101” and low-risk offenders come out as high-risk offenders. Prison education programs, drug treatment and job opportunities have all been cut back, so Hayslett says inmates “sit around their cells and they talk about the crime that they committed to get there and then that sparks in another person’s mind ‘well maybe if I do it this way, I won’t get caught next time.'” Hayslett oversees a shelter program in Des Moines that offers just-released prisoners a bed for three months, in addition to food, clothing, job resources, counseling, budget classes and more. Hayslett says the Hansen House of Hospitality has over an 80-percent success rate of men not returning to prison, finding a job, moving into their own living situation and not returning to drugs and alcohol. He says the shelter is a small-scale model for what the state should be doing to prevent recidivism.
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