Earned time allowed for Klunder’s early release from prison

An Iowa law that grants inmates less time in prison on their sentence is the reason the man suspected of abducting two girls from Dayton wasn’t incarcerated.

Michael J. Klunder, 42, of Stratford, is suspected of abducting 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard and an unnamed 12-year-old girl Monday afternoon as they were walking home from school.

Klunder, a registered sex offender, later committed suicide in rural Dayton, according to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

He was convicted of third-degree kidnapping in 1992 and sentenced to 41 years in prison.

But he was released in 2011.

Fred Scaletta, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Corrections, said Klunder was released after 19 years because of an Iowa law.

“The law states that when somebody walks into the prison system, for every day here they get 1.2 days off their sentence,” Scaletta said. “That can reduce the sentence by more than half.”

Inmates who don’t have to serve a minimum sentence begin generating “earned time,” as it’s referred to, as soon as they enter prison.

“If there’s a mandatory sentence, such as a forcible felony, they have to serve that time before they get earned time,” Scaletta said.

That wasn’t part of the law when Klunder was sentenced, he said, which meant it didn’t apply to Klunder.

“You’re able to get earned time if you’re meeting your responsibilities and expectations that are set forth by the system,” he said.

And there are other ways in which an inmate can be released from prison early.

“If there’s not a mandatory sentence when they walk in, they’re eligible to be released by the Board of Parole any time,” Scaletta said. “They look at different things as far as types of programming needed, and that’s what they look at in determining who is ready for release.”

In Klunder’s case, Scaletta said it was decided to place him in a work release program, which he began in September 2010, according to Iowa Department of Corrections online records.

“Society has changed over a long period of time,” Scaletta said. “We need some sort of a controlled environment in order to help them adjust. We try to prepare people as best as we can.”

The length of time served on work release is determined by a number of factors.

“It depends on when they get out and how quickly they can find a job,” he said. “Are they stable? Are they meeting their expectations when it comes to substance abuse or other issues? We have guidelines for re-entry, and the Department of Corrections does a lot of effort to prepare them for what they need to be.”

As a registered sex offender, Klunder was legally allowed to live in close proximity of an elementary school in Stratford because of the way the applicable law is written, Jessica Lown, communications manager for the Iowa Department of Public Safety, said Wednesday.

“Residency restriction, which is often colloquially referred to as the 2,000-foot rule, only applies to individuals who are convicted of sex abuse one, two or three,” Lown said.

Klunder, she said, was convicted of kidnapping.