The judge who sentenced Dixie Shanahan to 50 years in prison this echoed the feelings of many, including some members of the jury that found her guilty of second-degree murder, when he says “It’s legal, but it’s not fair.” Mandatory sentencing laws have taken discretion away from Iowa judges and juries when it comes to deciding what’s an appropriate prison term depending on the facts in any given case. Governor Tom Vilsack, a lawyer by profession, says it’s time for lawmakers to put aside partisan differences next year and work on sentencing reform. Vilsack says it’s time for “both parties to put the swords away,” take crime off the table in politics, and agree that everyone’s interested in safe communities and holding criminals accountable and nobody should think sentences aren’t commensurate with the crimes committed by offenders. He says we have to get a sense of “what works and what doesn’t.” The governor’s supported mandatory sentences in the past, but says for nonviolent crimes they might be reviewed and changed. A lot of the mandatory minimums aren’t for crimes against people, he says, they’re for drug offenses and there’s been discussion about how effective harsh sentences are for that kind of crime. Vilsack says without an agreement, lawmakers in both parties will hesitate to reduce some mandatory sentences, for fear of being labeled “soft on crime.” Vilsack says “crime is not a partisan issue,” but keeping people accountable for crimes they commit is a bipartisan effort. Vilsack says giving judges more leeway in sentencing nonviolent offenders wouldn’t change things for cases like that of Dixie Shanahan, convicted in the shooting death of her abusive husband. The governor wouldn’t comment on Shanahan’s case specifically, saying that as governor he could be asked in the future to pardon her, or commute her sentence.
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