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Bill creates possibility of parole for Iowa sentence of life in prisons

DES MOINES — Some Iowans serving a life sentence could get a pathway to parole under a bill co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 18 Iowa House members.

Republican Representative Terry Baxter of Garner said not all adults sentenced to serve the rest of their lives in prison deserve a second chance, but some do.

“When someone commits a crime under the influence of alcohol or drugs or coming from a background of abuse themselves, they’re not in their right mind,” Baxter said. “There are many people who in the process of being incarcerated go through such a change in their life, rehabilitation and transformation, they are no longer the same people…that committed that crime.”

Under current law, the only way a life sentence can be overturned is if the governor issues a pardon or commutes the sentence to the time already served. The bill would create a commission to review certain cases after a person sentenced to life has been in prison for 25 years, then commissioners could recommend that the governor approve the release.

Baxter, who has worked in prison ministry, said some people who commit serious crimes undergo a transformation.

“I am thankful that God gave me mercy. I received a second chance,” Baxter said. “I’m no longer the man I used to be and I believe that people can and do change and I believe in the dignity of human life and that people deserve a look when they’ve gone through that change.”

Lawmakers on a House subcommittee reviewing the bill plan to have more discussions about it. Life without the possibility of parole is the sentence in Iowa for first-degree murder or when someone is found guilty of kidnapping or sexual assault with serious injury. A lobbyist for county attorneys says those are serious crimes and it’s hard to imagine telling a family the person sentenced to life for murdering their relative was being released from prison.

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