Marsha Ternus visits University of Iowa Campus


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After leaving a memorable mark on the Iowa Supreme Court in 2010, former Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus returned to the University of Iowa campus after dozens of years to speak before a crowded Old Capitol Senate Chamber to address what she called “an important issue for the Iowa community.”

Ternus served on the Iowa Supreme Court as the chief justice from 1993 until she failed to be retained by voters in November 2010. In her 17th year on the bench, the Iowa Supreme Court faced the largely disputed Varnum v. Brien case, which established same-sex marriage in Iowa. Three of the justices who participated in the unanimous decision were ousted in November 2010’s retention election.

“Following that incident, she has remained as clear-headed — personally some people in that position take advantage of that limelight,” said Storm Miller, a University Lecture Committee member. “But she has stayed in Iowa, and with her level of work, there is something special that she recognizes in Iowa, she is still her doing what she loves.”

On Tuesday, Ternus focused her lecture on the topics of rehabilitation for criminals rather than long incarcerations for smaller offenses, such as drug offenses.

While punishment is necessary and just, she said society must embrace restorative approaches of rehabilitation to avoid criminals who continue to re-offend.

Chicago native and UI freshman Bryan Porter said he sees people incarcerated more often, and he would rather see smaller offenders receive the help they need.

“I really liked her stance on how states and federal law plays the victim and punishes criminals,” he said. “Instead of seeing the criminal as the one who is the one needing help.”

Ternus said she hopes teaching and healing will become a major objective of the criminal-justice system.

“Oftentimes they will need, perhaps, mental health treatment or treatment for addiction,” Ternus said. “They need to learn personal confidence, empathy for others, and the belief that they can change their path.”

A 2012 Pew Study shows the growth of imprisonment population issues has also brought rising cost.

Ternus said across the state, investments in corrections have jumped more than 300 percent in the past two decades in each of the 50 states.

“Those rehabilitation services are going to cost money,” said Matthew Bricks, an Iowa City resident. “The question is, are higher taxes worth the services that they bring?”

UI freshman Zuleyma Leal said the lecture hit home with her as well. Leal, who grew up in poor neighborhoods of Queens, N.Y., said she has seen family members be arrested for drug us and receive appropriate help for rehabilitation instead of incarceration.

Leal said some of her family members have gained great help from social workers to obtain job skills and characteristics to succeed later in life.

“I definitely think rehabilitation systems are key in helping criminals,” she said. “I don’t think just locking them up is going to help them; they need psychological or basically any kind of help they can get.”

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