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Chief Justic Cady Gives State of the Judiciary

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By: MacKenzie Dreeszen

The plan for the criminal and civil justice systems in Iowa was outlined today in the condition of the judiciary address.  Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, Mark Cady, gave the address in the chamber of the Iowa House of Representatives.
Cady said that the number one priority of the court is to protect Iowa’s children. Since 2009, the number of offenders under the age of 21 has been cut in half. He attributes this to three factors: Using a risk assessment for youth, increasing the number of juvenile court officers, and more effective methods of interacting with juvenile offenders.
Eight years ago, a risk assessment analysis was developed to identify at-risk youth. Those with higher risk could then benefit from services and preventative programs that would reduce their risk for later criminal behavior.
More juvenile court officers who use a different model for interacting with juvenile offenders has helped to reduce criminal thought patterns. They instead encourage more positive ways of thinking.
The Chief Justice hopes to further improve in the area of criminal justice by introducing more diversion programs. Once a young person enters the criminal justice system, it is very difficult to get out of it. If the state invests in decreasing the number of youth charged with an offense to begin with, there is a 93% chance that they will not commit crimes in the future, according to 2016 figures. Current diversion programs use a less confrontational approach that encourages family participation and improves the attitudes that youth have toward law enforcement.
Adult criminal justice continues to see improvements by addressing the source of criminal behavior and treating it appropriately. At the present, there are 47 specialty courts that deal with issues like substance abuse, domestic abuse, and veterans issues. They are better equipped to help these individuals get back on their feet and live functional lives.
Family treatment courts work to keep children with their families. More than 860 families have been reunited instead of experiencing parental termination, and over 1,600 children have been able to stay with their parents in the last nine years.  These factors of adult criminal justice have saved Iowa taxpayers $5.8 million. The return on the investment in these adult programs has had an annual return on investment of $22 million.
Like criminal justice, civil justice has improved. A family law task force has been established to find better ways to resolve divorce and custody issues. They recommend uniform temporary custody hearings and a study in an informal family law trial process, which is expected to shorten the time spent reaching an agreement and the cost of litigation . The court plans to further expand access to free legal services for Iowans with low incomes.
Iowa businesses benefit from our current standing in civil justice. Iowa is ranked fourth in the country by the United States Chamber of Commerce based on our impartiality and competence of our courts. Our renowned justice system in Iowa attracts businesses to invest in our state, which increases our revenue.
Cady stressed that the “vision of the court is not to administer justice, but to advance it. Our vision is not to reduce racial bias and disparity, but to eliminate it.” He urged legislators to invest in the Iowa judicial system with increased salaries for judges, increased courthouse security, and funding for prevention and treatment programs.

He warned that the consequences may include delays in the judicial process, loss of specialty courts, and part-time hours of courthouse operations. However, the Chief Justice is confident that Iowans will for a fair and unbiased justice system has never been stronger.


MacKenzie Dreeszen is a legislative liaison with the Iowa House and a political consultant specialized in fundraising.