In August 2013, then-Attorney General Eric Holder announced the “Smart on Crime” initiative, recognizing the reality that we cannot prosecute our way to a safer community. While aggressive enforcement of federal criminal law is necessary and remains the top priority of the United States Attorney’s Office, we recognize that building safer communities also requires a robust focus on preventing crime from occurring in the first place, in addition to reducing recidivism rates of those who are reentering our communities following a prison sentence.
Our office is always looking for new partners for offender reentry and crime prevention initiatives. If you have expertise or resources that could assist with offender reentry or crime prevention efforts, please e-mail the office’s Smart on Crime Coordinator at Justin.Lightfoot@usdoj.gov.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa is involved in multiple initiatives aimed at curbing recidivism by those coming out of both state and federal prison.
WARN Reentry Meetings
In a partnership with the Iowa Sixth Judicial District Department of Corrections, our office participates in WARN (“Welcome and Resource Notification”) meetings every other month. All State of Iowa parolees who reside in the Sixth Judicial District are required to attend the first meeting that is held upon their release. Other individuals who may be at high-risk to re-offend may also attend. During the event, attendees are familiarized with various resources that are available in the community to assist in their transition out of prison. An Assistant U.S. Attorney discussed federal firearm laws and the significant penalties that apply if they decide, as felons, to possess a firearm or ammunition. A local law enforcement representative underscores this point, emphasizing that law enforcement and prosecutors work closely together to aggressively enforce federal and state firearm laws. WARN meetings appear to be making a difference, with a study showing that individuals who attended a WARN meeting committed fewer new felony offenses than a comparison group that had not attended a WARN session.
Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) Orientation
Although there is no federal prison located in the Northern District of Iowa, our office regularly joins the United States Probation Office in participating in videoconference orientation sessions with inmates at BOP facilities. The participating inmates are scheduled for release to this district within the upcoming year. During the orientation session, federal probation officers speak to the inmates regarding the expectations of the probation office and court while on supervised release. An AUSA and Assistant Federal Public Defender are also present to answer questions and speak to the inmates.
Our office’s Monetary Penalties Unit (MPU) meets with individuals who owe a financial penalty to the government or victims, and who are successfully completing their terms of supervised release. In order to assist these individuals in fulfilling their financial obligations while successfully transitioning back to the community, our office provides them with a financial packet outlining their financial obligations, the collection ramifications, and payment schedules. The MPU meets with all debtors, both as a group and individually, and works through their financial questions, budgets, and payment plants. These meetings are held in both Cedar Rapids and Sioux City twice yearly.
Research has shown a strong correlation between unemployment, underemployment, and recidivism. Our office has joined forces with the United States Probation Office, the Iowa Department of Corrections, Iowa Workforce Development, and the nonprofits America’s Job Honors and Diversity Focus, to place a heavy emphasis on increasing the number of employers willing to consider hiring individuals with a criminal record. Many of these individuals received relevant vocational training while in custody and have a skillset that would be valuable for area employers. Simply put, research has shown that these individuals are much less likely to commit a new crime if they are employed.
To that end, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and its partners convened an April 2016 focus group consisting of Cedar Rapids area business leaders. The feedback from this focus group will be used to develop additional programs for employers in multiple areas in the Northern District of Iowa. These “Employer Engagement” seminars will focus on the benefits that employers receive through hiring this population.
Our office will be sponsoring job fairs throughout the district, to assist in willing employers meeting employee candidates.
If you are an employer interested in learning about the benefits of hiring someone who has a felony record, please let us know.
Our office is heavily involved in crime prevention initiatives, focusing primarily on two areas: Heroin and Opioid Abuse Prevention and Violent Crime Prevention.
Heroin and Opioid Abuse Prevention
In order to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic hitting Eastern Iowa, our office worked with the Cedar Rapids Police Department and the Midwest High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) to create the Eastern Iowa Heroin Initiative. The Eastern Iowa Heroin Initiative is a funded initiative to support a Cedar Rapids police officer to assist Linn, Black Hawk, Johnson, and Dubuque Counties, which are the counties in Eastern Iowa with the highest incidence of heroin and opioid abuse. Led by Officer Al Fear and Deputy Criminal Chief and OCDETF Coordinator Pat Reinert, the heroin initiative has three mutually supportive efforts: prevention, treatment, and enforcement.
The treatment and prevention components are focused on preventing opioid abuse and educating stakeholders in the treatment of users who suffer a drug overdose. In November 2015, our office co-hosted a Heroin/Opioid summit with the Iowa College of Public Health. The summit was widely attended and provided each of the participants with the perspectives from law enforcement, treatment, prevention and healthcare. The summit was followed up by multiple town hall events, fostering a dialogue and raising awareness with community members regarding the dangers of prescription pain and heroin abuse.
In addition, Officer Fear has coordinated training for law enforcement, conducted outreach activities to a variety of school and community groups, and initiated “pill take back” programs. These programs transform old mailboxes into secured pill drop boxes, with the goal of ensuring there is a location in every county where individuals can safely dispose of unneeded pain medication. .
For more information on the Eastern Iowa Heroin Initiative, or to request a speaker on this topic, email Officer Fear at A.Fear@cedar-rapids.org, or check out the Eastern Iowa Heroin Initiative’s Facebook page at
Violent Crime Prevention
Multiple Iowa cities have seen an increase in shootings and violent crime over the past several years. To combat this trend, our office has engaged in a number of activities aimed at changing the mindset that leads to future violence.
In October of each year, our office works with local law enforcement and school districts to hold a Student Pledge Against Gun Violence. In 2015, over 16,000 students at 17 middle and high schools in the Cedar Rapids and Marion area pledged never to bring a gun to school or to use a gun to resolve a dispute. In addition to the pledge itself, many schools expanded their participation through various events designed to raise awareness of gun violence. U.S. Attorney Kevin Techau and 10 different AUSAs provided remarks at, or participated in, these various events. These events included a student-led forum recorded by local television news channels, classroom discussions, school assemblies, and lunch programs.
Additionally, our office is working closely with the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Violence Prevention to bring the Center’s evidence-based anti-violence programming to communities across the Northern District of Iowa.