- Associated Press - Monday, June 6, 2016

Des Moines Register. June 1, 2016

Fate of juveniles no longer etched in stone.

Anyone who has spent time with teenagers knows their brains have not finished developing. In a ruling issued Friday, the Iowa Supreme Court recognized that, too. Iowa juveniles convicted of murder can no longer be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. It is unconstitutional and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

The case before the court involved Isaiah Richard Sweet. He pleaded guilty to two first-degree murder charges in the 2012 shooting deaths of his grandparents in their Manchester home. Sweet was 17 at the time of the murders and sentenced to life behind bars without a chance of ever being released.

Such punishment for a young offender is akin to a death sentence and should not be imposed “when the juvenile character is a work in progress,” wrote Justice Brent Appel for the majority in the 4-3 ruling. Instead, the Iowa Board of Parole should later determine whether someone who committed murder as a juvenile should ever be released from prison. Though parole is not guaranteed, it should be an option. And the determination should be made “after opportunities for maturation and rehabilitation have been provided, and after a record of success or failure in the rehabilitative process is available,” according to the ruling.

A decision to incarcerate a young offender for the rest of his life - which could easily stretch five or six decades - should not be etched in stone.

This is a victory for common sense. Iowa will finally and formally recognize what scientists, psychiatrists and numerous other courts have recognized: Teenagers are not simply “little adults.” They lack the experience, maturity and sense of responsibility and control that frequently comes with age. Since 2005, U.S. Supreme Court rulings have acknowledged adolescent brain science and banned the use of capital punishment for juveniles, limited life without parole sentences and banned mandatory life without parole.

Iowa is catching up. Gov. Terry Branstad, however, is “deeply disturbed” by Friday’s ruling and the “impact (the court’s) decision will have on the safety of Iowa’s communities and the victims of these heinous crimes,” according to a statement from his communications director, Ben Hammes.

What impact is that exactly?

Between 1964 and 2014, 48 Iowa youths were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, including seven for non-homicide offenses. Of all those, two inmates were released from prison upon death, one case was overturned and one woman with a terminal illness was paroled into hospice care. The relatively few who remain may never be paroled. Offenders incarcerated years ago for committing murder as teens will not be flooding small towns in our state and putting the rest of us at risk.

No one, including the Iowa Supreme Court, is saying Isaiah Sweet should be released from prison. Sweet’s own psychologist testified the young man was deceitful, defiant, emotionally disconnected and had an attitude of superiority. He lacks attachment to people, empathy and remorse.

“If those things persisted past the age of 25, if I had an adult who’d shown those things consistently, then that’s the kind of thing we often would call psychopathic or antisocial personality disorder,” testified the psychologist.

But Sweet was not an adult. And the ruling is not only about this one individual.

It is about remembering the goal of incarceration should be rehabilitation, not retribution. It is about resisting the urge to entirely give up on young people who commit heinous crimes. It is about refusing to be a society that locks them up and throws away the keys. It is about recognizing the growing scientific consensus that the human brain does not fully develop until the mid-20s.

Of course, society has known for many years young people are not the same as adults - which is why government created separate court systems, legal procedures and facilities to deal with juvenile offenders in the first place.


Burlington Hawk Eye. June 1, 2016

The right to speak is a cherished protection.

They’re the two freedoms tucked at the tail end of the First Amendment of the Constitution - “The right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

It’s as important to us as the other three freedoms - speech, press and religion - we frequently write about on these pages.

They’re rights extend to the smallest form of government, be it a zoning board meeting, a parks and recreation commission session, or a contentious small-town city council meeting, as was detailed Tuesday in a story from The Hawk Eye’s Julia Shumway about the controversial plan in Mount Union, a hamlet in Henry County, to cease to exist as an incorporated entity in Iowa.

A citizen, Dan Johnson, who wanted to speak at council meeting on Monday - a holiday for the rest of the nation, which, given many people are preoccupied with other plans, makes it a convenient time for elected officials who aren’t in the mood for dissension to take up controversial matters. Johnson didn’t get his lawful opportunity.

According to Shumway’s report, after just a few sentences, Mayor John Marek pounded his gavel and cut Johnson off. Apparently in Mount Union, citizens don’t get a chance to speak at public meetings. Shumway reported the Mount Union council bars citizens from speaking because, Marek says, the public has “abused” its ability to speak at public meetings.

Citizens should be outraged at the mere suggestion their opinion is of no value to their elected representation.

Marek even ordered Johnson out of the building, under an escort from law enforcement. Shumway’s report indicated all of the Johnson’s actions at the meeting were peaceful, yet Johnson, according to him, was told by deputies who escorted him out of the meeting room he was creating a disturbance. That was clearly not the case. What was clear was he was saying things - sensitive things about the dissolution of a community in which he once served as mayor - the current mayor and council members didn’t want to hear.

What’s facing the residents of Mount Union isn’t just a financial matter of maintaining the community’s existence, though it is odd that as they look to dissolve the community - and squelch any discussion of such a significant matter - they agreed to spend $16,000 for playground equipment.

Investing in an enterprise - in this case the city - you’re planning to liquidate rightly raises eyebrows.

And this is precisely the issue that deserves a full airing by the citizenry. That’s what the founding fathers had in mind when they demanded citizens who have issues with the workings of their government have a right to air their concerns. Moreover, there’s no such thing as declaring citizens are abusing the right to speak. That’s insulting to those citizens who may want to say something the mayor doesn’t want to hear - and who, by the way, pay the bills.

If that’s his position, he should step down.


Quad-City Times. June 3, 2016

Welcome back, Sen. Grassley.

Sen. Chuck Grassley’s no-holds-barred takedown of the U.S. military’s rape culture is a reminder that politicians are complex human beings. Welcome back, Senator. You’ve been missed.

Last week, Grassley railed against cover-ups that protect rapists within the Armed Forces and systematic reprisals against victims who report the inexcusable violation. He blasted generals who “lied” to the Senate, while downplaying an internal system that punishes victims who speak out. He signed on to desperately needed legislation that would remove sexual assault investigations from internal military purview.

The proposed amendment to National Defense Authorization Act would create an independent judicial system to investigate reported sexual assault.

In short, Grassley stood up for women who, too often, are twice victimized: Once by a peer and again by an institution that favors machismo and public relations over justice. His justifiable anger followed an inspector general’s report that detailed an instance where a female officer reported being raped and was greeted by a career-scuttling evaluation by her commanding officer, Brigadier General Charles Viet.

“This is a perfect example of why it needs to come out of the chain of command and set up a separate prosecution unit for these rapists,” Grassley told reporters last week.

We share his rage.

Five percent of women and 1 percent of men in the Armed Forces - some 20,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen - reported a sexual assault in 2013, says a study conducted in 2014 by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s office. Of 329 cases sampled, just 22 percent went to trial and conviction rates were flirting with single digits.

Clearly, justice is of no concern to the generals, and they’ve proven unworthy of the investigatory oversight the system now permits.

Politically, Grassley’s unequivocal support is a significant boost for the long-languishing amendment. Gillibrand, D-New York, has for years pushed the overhaul of the secretive, victim-blaming military justice system. But her minority status and a general unwillingness among congressional Republicans to condemn the military has doomed it to the dust pile.

Blasting civilian bureaucrats at the Veterans Administration is a gimme for members of Congress. Criticizing the military itself is tantamount to heresy in some sects. It takes guts to lambaste a sacred cow.

Now, a member of leadership is carrying the bill. Now, a prominent member of the Senate GOP majority is openly denouncing rampant misogyny in the U.S. military. Now, Gillibrand’s amendment has a real shot. Now, justice might be had for men and women in uniform.

The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman has, for months, been under constant election-year fire for blocking President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. We’ve pulled no punches when criticizing Grassley’s willingness to join the absurd Republican campaign to delegitimize Barack Obama’s presidency.

But Grassley’s strident call to action to end the military’s systematic patronage and victim blaming highlights why he’s been respected for so long in Iowa and Washington alike. The Garland instance aside, Grassley isn’t some partisan hack. He’s no one-trick pony. He’s an independent, introspective leader who is willing to use his power when it’s most effective.

That willingness to bring influence to bear just might provide justice for thousands of men and women in uniform who, for too long, were compelled to remain silent.


Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. May 31, 2016

Career training programs alive at Waterloo Schools.

We are encouraged by the news Waterloo Community Schools’ officials will continue to pursue the development of career and technical programs, albeit at a slower pace than hoped.

The Board of Education recently approved a remodeling project for a portion of Central Middle School that would host programs in nursing/nursing assistant and graphic communications for students from the district’s high schools. It is the beginning of a revised plan following a failed $47 million bond issue referendum in February that would have paid for a career center, allowing for the launch of 15 of an eventual 30 career programs.

“Since that time, we have done our due diligence on what the next step should be,” said Superintendent Jane Lindaman.

We supported the bond proposal because it embraced significant education reform we believe is a good plan for Waterloo schools.

It was a proposal that was not made lightly or in haste. The district and many district stakeholders worked hard at examining high school education reform for years, sending representatives to districts across the nation.

Throughout that process we had applauded the district and its leadership, past and present, in moving ahead with the realization not everyone is cut out for - or needs - a four-year university degree. What is essential is that our schools effectively prepare young people either for higher education or for entering the workforce - in viable and sustainable careers. The inability to do either will inevitably leave some behind.

The two initial programs could be joined by up to six others by fall 2018. In addition, 11 existing partial career programs at East and West high schools would continue to be enhanced. That’s far from the 15 full-fledged programs that would have been launched with completion of the proposed career center if the bond issue had passed.

The remodeling project would be done with available physical plant and equipment levy and 1 percent sales tax funds. The Waterloo Schools Foundation also has raised $190,000 to help launch the nursing program.

The career pathways concept will allow the district to have strong tie-ins with community colleges, including Hawkeye Community College, which offers training in many of the career paths that have openings now and are projected to see growth well into the future.

We are happy to see the district continue on the CTE path. Without the space the proposed bond would have provided, the plan will take significantly longer to develop. We’re not sure it can ever be as fully developed as initially envisioned with the assistance of the proposed bond.

However, it’s still a plan very much worth pursuing

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