Convict sues Iowa over prisons’ sex-abuse treatment program
Iowa’s Civil Commitment Unit for Sex Offenders is facing another legal challenge in U.S. District Court, this time by a man accused of plotting to kill his accuser after being inspired by an episode of “Breaking Bad.”
Two convicted sex offenders, Christopher King and Mark Retterath, are suing the Iowa Department of Corrections as part of a proposed class action lawsuit. They allege that while Iowa requires them to complete a treatment program for sex offenders before they can have prison visits with their children, they have not been allowed into the program.
They allege that participation in the program is not guaranteed upon conviction for a sex offense. They also allege that the Newton Correctional Facility, where the program is housed, has a maximum capacity of 200 sex offenders, although 800 to 1,000 incarcerated individuals are presently required to complete the treatment program.
Because the program takes an average of 11.5 months to complete, inmates may have to wait years before they’re permitted to even begin the program.
Also in 2016, Retterath was convicted on one count of sexual abuse in the third degree; solicitation to commit murder; and attempted murder. His conviction for attempted murder was later reversed and the solicitation conviction was conditionally reversed. Retterath is currently serving a term of no more than 10 years. Because he has not been able to enroll in the treatment program, he has not had any visits with his children since his incarceration.
Retterath, who was allegedly inspired by an episode of the TV series “Breaking Bad,” was accused of plotting to use ricin to kill his sexual-abuse victim as a way to keep the man from testifying against him.
In 2016, King was convicted on two counts of third-degree sexual abuse; one count of assault with intent to commit sex abuse; and one count of assault by penetration of genitalia with an object. Each of his convictions involved an unrelated minor age 16 to 17. He was sentenced to prison for a period of no more than 32 years. He has not had any visits with his minor daughter since his incarceration.
The civil lawsuit alleges that the DOC’s actions are not rationally related to a legitimate government interest, as children are permitted to visit other, more dangerous offenders, and that there are “reasonable alternatives” to a blanket ban on visiting children.
The DOC has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that all of claims raised by the plaintiffs have been “fully and fairly litigated” in the past with the courts upholding the DOC’s actions.
In 2015, a federal court held that “as a general proposition it is rational to believe an untreated inmate with a sexual attraction to children ought not to have direct, in-person contact with a child by visitation or telephone until the extent of the inmate’s sexual deviancy is revealed in the course of treatment.”
The court went on to say that “in-person contact” with children “may impede rehabilitation and pose a risk to the child” and that the DOC policy “has a valid, rational connection to the legitimate penological interests of rehabilitation and public safety.” In that same case, the court ruled against the state with regard to the DOC’s restrictions on mail, ruling that offenders could write to their minor children.
The DOC acknowledges that there is a separate issue that relates to the DOC’s timing in placing offenders into the treatment program and that the courts have allowed lawsuits to proceed when they pertain to the DOC’s failure to offer treatment when it is a necessary prerequisite to parole.
The DOC alleges the current lawsuit is a “camouflaged attempt to attack the priority system” used by the DOC in placing offenders into treatment so that inmates being denied visitation with children can win priority placement in the program.
In addition the DOC, the lawsuit names as defendants Beth Skinner, the director of the department; Kris Weitzell, the warden of the Newton Correctional Facility; and Stephen Weiss, the warden of the Clarinda Correctional Facility.
The court has yet to rule on the plaintiff’s request for class-action status and the DOC’s request for a dismissal.