Iowa courts innovate to improve lives

Iowa’s court system continues to pursue innovative approaches that provide effective and timely justice to Iowans.

Many of these initiatives got their start under the leadership of former Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady, who died unexpectedly in November.

Acting Chief Justice David Wiggins highlighted these accomplishments and paid tribute to Cady, when he addressed legislators in his Condition of the Judiciary presentation Wednesday. Iowa’s court system became one of the most respected in the country under Cady.  

Iowa has developed specialized courts to address the specific needs of Iowans and their communities. These problem-solving courts include drug courts, mental health courts and veterans’ courts. Judges, treatment professionals, lawyers and service agencies form treatment teams to help Iowans address their underlying problems. Instead of going to prison, most problem-solving court graduates leave with a job, a support system and a better chance to succeed in life.

Family treatment courts keep drug-affected families together by helping parents understand how their substance abuse issues impact their parenting. A Fast Track probation violation program in Waterloo provides swift sanctions to simple misdemeanor probation violators. This gives them consistent, timely consequences so that they can return to their families and jobs, while avoiding unnecessary jail time.

Iowa even has business courts, which handle complex civil business cases. For example, the Judicial Branch, with the help of the Drake Law School Agricultural Law Center, reaches out to farmers to share how disputes can be better resolved with the help of business courts designed to meet their needs. 

A recent $500,000 grant from the Department of Justice will allow Iowa to continue improving its specialty courts. Along with adequate budget support from the Legislature, our courts can expand proven justice and corrections efforts throughout the state.