Black-White Prisoner Ratio Highest in U.S.

by on May 10, 2010

Here’s a little article about the Iowa Justice System

By Lee Rood

The Des Moines Register July 18, 2007

A national study released today ranks Iowa No. 1in the nation in the ratio of blacks to whites in prison, a statistic that many advocates say underscores a failure to address one of the state’s most serious problems.

The study by the Washington D.C. based Project found Iowa incarcerates blacks at a rate 13.6 times that of whites more than double the national average. Across the country, blacks are imprisoned at nearly six times the rate for whites. Latinos are imprisoned at nearly double the rate for whites nationally.

The study by the criminal justice advocacy research group recommended several remedies for all states, including drug sentencing reform, more judicial discretion in sentencing and better standards for indigent defense.

But black leaders say Iowa which has been among the nations leaders in the incarceration of black men for years needs to make much more comprehensive changes. Reps Ako Abdul-Samad and Wayne Ford, two of the state’s four black lawmakers, called for all Iowans to work together on the issue and for the Legislature to make the disproportion a top priority in 2008.

“What really makes this challenging is that I know we can do something about it,” said Abdul-Samad, who heads Creative Visions, a Des Moines nonprofit organization that tries to steer black youth away from crime. “We have such an opportunity on several levels… to go over this problem aggressively.”

Ford said if community, corporate, religious and academic leaders focused with legislators on the problem as they have on other issues. “I would bet my career” the statistics would change. The Des Moines Democrat said he would like to see existing agencies work together to help convicts transition out of the corrections system, get jobs and build more productive lives.

A 1999 Des Moines Register investigation found the proportion of Iowa’s blacks in prison, on parole or probation had reached 1 in 12 – a ratio that far surpassed those of most other states. At the time, one-quarter of all prison beds in the state were filled by blacks, a figure that has scarcely budged since.
Later in 1999, then Gov. Tom Vilsack established a committee to examine factors in the education, employment and justice systems leading to the disproportion.

Some strides, particularly in education, have een made since then. Shrinking class sizes and expanding early childhood education both approved in recent years by the Legislature were two of the 2001 recommendations of the task force.
But many of the group’s other suggestions sat largely idle until this May, when Gov. Chet Culver appointed a new committee to put the plans into action and make new recommendations.

The group is expected to present its proposal to Culver in August for consideration in his 2008 legislative agenda.
The governor has also convened a task force to look specifically at the detention of minority youth, because research shows it is a leading predictor of future incarceration.

Abdul-Samad, who serves on the incarceration disproportion committee with Ford, said he thought the biggest areas to be addressed were the lack of availability of drug treatment through the courts, lack of job opportunities for minority youth, and racist sentencing practices in the state justice system. Past studies have shown, for example, that minority youth are detained far longer than whites.

“Whats dangerous is that we don’t think we as a state have an issue with that.” Abdul-Samad said of racism. “I believe that exists, and until we face some of that, we will continue to have this high incarceration rate.”

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