The Gazette Editorial Board
For those of us who believe our prison system’s main focus should be on protecting public safety, the case of Kirk Levin is a deeply troubling tragedy.
Levin is accused of killing his mother and kidnapping another woman in Sac County just 36 hours after he was released from prison. Iowa corrections officials say they had no legal basis to keep Levin in custody, even after they found a notebook where Levin wrote about rape fantasies. They informed Sac County Sheriff Ken McClure that Levin was someone who “needed special attention in the community,” but that was the only precaution taken.
Because Levin was serving time for a burglary, not a sex crime, he could not be kept in custody after his sentence ended for treatment. In Wisconsin, where he served time previously for car theft, he escaped from a group home and was found in the basement of a girl he had targeted for rape, carrying duct tape. He received treatment, and a doctor worried that he might act on his fantasies. But none of that formed a legal rationale in Iowa for delaying his release.
And in Iowa, when sentences are completed, inmates are released without a period of supervision.
We think our leaders at the Statehouse who set corrections policy need to consider whether that practice should be changed. It seems reasonable to conclude that supervision through the difficult transition from prison to our communities could, in many cases, reduce the risk to reoffend. And, in some cases, it might help avert a tragedy.
We also can’t help but raise, on a more fundamental level, concerns about the primary purpose of our prisons.
Are they basically warehouses, where offenders mark time, and non-violent inmates become more violent? Or should prisons seek to rehabilitate inmates in such away that they don’t leave prison as a bigger threat to public safety than when they arrived?
We believe, based on the facts we know about Levin’s case, that more could have been done to address his documented potential to commit violence upon release. If there are problems with mental health screening, they must be addressed. If we lack resources to better evaluate and treat inmates, more dollars should be found.
The warning signs were clear. We need a prison system that can act on them.
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