Prison Disparity Rate Increases for Blacks in Iowa

With all the candidates focused on Iowa, now would be a good time for Iowans to ask them what they plan on doing to reduce the racial disparity in prison sentences for blacks and whites when it comes to drug crimes.

It's an issue that affects them directly.

The number of blacks behind bars for drug-related crimes is rising again in Iowa. At the same time, a new anti-methamphetamine law has resulted in fewer new prison admissions for white Iowans.

Officials in drug, corrections and law enforcement circles say it's not yet clear why more blacks are being sent to prison, but the impact is clear: The state's notorious disproportion of blacks behind bars vs. whites is growing again.

How bad is it in Iowa?

Emotions on the issue flared anew this July when the Sentencing Project released its study showing the rate of black incarceration in Iowa was six times that of whites. Feeding that disparity, researchers said, was that blacks make up just 2.3 percent of Iowa's 2.98 million residents.

...Those who defend and advocate for the disadvantaged argue that state leaders have done almost nothing to address the biases in the justice system that contribute to Iowa's notoriety.

The problem also exists at the federal level. It's time the candidates were called on to address it.

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    It's no mystery... (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by jnickens on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 08:32:04 PM EST
    The War on Drugs and The War on Crime were both responses to the civil rights movement. It's really that simple.

    That is just (none / 0) (#14)
    by Pancho on Sun Oct 07, 2007 at 10:55:37 AM EST
    absolutely idiotic.

    Pancho (none / 0) (#15)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Oct 07, 2007 at 07:49:00 PM EST
    What's idiotic is putting people in jail for victimless crimes.

    Why don't we also get rid of tobacco and alcohol..

    (he says as he sips his scotch on the rocks)


    I agree, (none / 0) (#18)
    by Pancho on Mon Oct 08, 2007 at 08:28:51 AM EST
    but the idea that the war on drugs is a response to the civil rights movement is absolutely asinine.

    Orlando Patterson professor of sociology Harvard (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Aaron on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 09:01:24 PM EST
    Jena, O. J. and the Jailing of Black America

    America has more than two million citizens behind bars, the highest absolute and per capita rate of incarceration in the world. Black Americans, a mere 13 percent of the population, constitute half of this country's prisoners. A tenth of all black men between ages 20 and 35 are in jail or prison; blacks are incarcerated at over eight times the white rate.

    The effect on black communities is catastrophic: one in three male African-Americans in their 30s now has a prison record, as do nearly two-thirds of all black male high school dropouts.


    How, after decades of undeniable racial progress, did we end up with this virtual gulag of racial incarceration?

    Part of the answer is a law enforcement system that unfairly focuses on drug offenses and other crimes more likely to be committed by blacks, combined with draconian mandatory sentencing and an absurdly counterproductive retreat from rehabilitation as an integral method of dealing with offenders.


    The circumstances that far too many African-Americans face -- the lack of paternal support and discipline; the requirement that single mothers work regardless of the effect on their children's care; the hypocritical refusal of conservative politicians to put their money where their mouths are on family values; the recourse by male youths to gangs as parental substitutes; the ghetto-fabulous culture of the streets; the lack of skills among black men for the jobs and pay they want; the hypersegregation of blacks into impoverished inner-city neighborhoods -- all interact perversely with the prison system that simply makes hardened criminals of nonviolent drug offenders and spits out angry men who are unemployable, unreformable and unmarriageable, closing the vicious circle.

    Disproportionate? (none / 0) (#1)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 07:37:05 PM EST

    If numbers in prison are in proportion to the rate at which crime is committed, what is the problem?

    There precious few if any Amish in the klink for honor killing but that does not mean there is anything wrong with the legal system.

    Wake Up Dude (none / 0) (#3)
    by squeaky on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 07:47:21 PM EST
    If numbers in prison are in proportion to the rate at which crime is committed, what is the problem?
    More to the point:

    If the numbers in prison are in proportion to the rate of arrests...

    And if the arrests are targeted to blacks....

    In the past blacks were hung from a tree just for fun.. Do you that rate was also proportional to crimes committed?


    There was a study done in 2001 of over (none / 0) (#6)
    by JSN on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 11:09:42 PM EST
    incarceration of Blacks in Iowa that was ignored by Governor Vilsack. Governor Culver has dusted off the study and asked a new committee to make budget requests for remedial programs. We will have to wait and see if the requests make into  the governors budget. There has been complaints already that the unethical treatment of minorities by the police has not been targeted.

    The Des Moines Register had an article about the an increase in the B/W prisoner ratio for new court commitments which account for about  30% of all prison admissions (most are parole/probation revocations and returns from work release). I think the timing of the article is interesting because there is a conference coming up on disproportionate minority confinement. it may be the editorial board thinks that Gov. Culver may actually try to do something about this problem.

    For the first time in many years the Governor, Senate and House (just barely) are controlled by Democrats so there is a chance that some of the damage done by the Republicans can be repaired but the rethugs have already made it clear they will smear anyone who tries to reduce penalties no matter what party.

    Tough -on-crime is very popular in Iowa bills to increase penalties pass with near unanimous votes and the Governor promptly signs them so a change of course is not going to be easy. A lot depends on how the next election turns out if the rethugs lose more seats then the chances of remedial action are improved. Another factor is the DOC has proposed a $200+ million expansion in the size of the prisons and it will be tough to find the money to pay for that and I have no idea where the money to operate the expanded prison system will come from.

    tell you the truth, (none / 0) (#7)
    by cpinva on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 11:50:06 PM EST
    i had no idea there were any black people in iowa, wherever do they find them?

    disproportionate incarceration rates, by themselves, are meaningless. the issue is: why?

    do blacks in iowa commit crime disproportionate to their % of the population? are they arrested at a higher rate than other groups, under the same circumstances?

    until empirical data can support any rational conclusion, the numbers are just that, numbers.

    who commits crime (none / 0) (#8)
    by diogenes on Sat Oct 06, 2007 at 06:54:32 PM EST
    In my town there aren't many local blacks but there are a number of blacks who come from Brooklyn or Manhattan and somehow get convicted of dealing crack, usually with some accompanying assault/stabbing of their cohorts in crime.  Maybe out of state black immigrants to Iowa are disproportionately coming for crime opportunities and thus getting caught.  It would be interesting to see what the prison rate is for native born black Iowans.

    45% of the Blacks in Iowa prisons were born in (none / 0) (#10)
    by JSN on Sun Oct 07, 2007 at 09:07:07 AM EST
    in Iowa and 22% were born in Illinois. The other third were born in other states. That really does not tell us much because we don't know when they moved to Iowa. However it does appear that incarceration is more likely than probation for nonresidents. Some of the prisoners have home zip codes in Moline/Rock Island,  Omaha and Sioux  City, SD urban areas that overlap the state boundaries.

    There is some migration of Blacks into areas were they can find work, low rent housing, good schools and good social services. There is also migration of Blacks within Iowa because some urban areas have high unemployment.

    The offense profiles for Blacks and Whites differ and conviction for a violent crime at the class A felony level will result in LWOP (independent of race, gender or ethnicity) and the Blacks are over represented at that offense class (some of them have been there a long time). For less serious offense classes the B/W ratio depends on the offense type (person, property, public order and drugs). In most reports the drugs are all lumped together.

    In Iowa there is no mandatory minimum for possession but the amount of drugs that leads to a presumption of trafficking is very small. The head of our PD office claims we are giving long sentences for trafficking to people who are not dealers that were caught with more than a few days supply.  

    We had a meeting about the high B/W incarceration ratio and one person commented that we are all conditioned to suspicious of Blacks. The police are conditioned to expect problems with young Blacks (either gender) and the young Blacks are conditioned to expect problems with the police. A lot of the police-Black contacts are the result of a suspicious-person report.

    Law enforcement is a messy business and the error rate by the police is fairly high. Is the CJ System set up to promptly detect and minimize the harm done by such errors or do they care? It appears the answer depends on the CA.


    Look at drug wars versus the war wars (none / 0) (#9)
    by Bob In Pacifica on Sat Oct 06, 2007 at 09:55:59 PM EST
    There is a connection between military involvement overseas and waves of drugs coming into the U.S.

    If it hasn't already begun, expect plenty of heroin coming in from Afghanistan any day soon. During the Iran-contra swindle there was heroin coming in through Beruit via people like Monzer al-Kassar, who was also a big arms dealer on the Iran end of that secret war. On the contra end weapons went south and cocaine (some remanufactured into crack) came back on the return flights. Back during the Vietnam War we had Air America and the Golden Triangle. There was the French Connection where the Guerini Gang in Marseilles got a pass on their heroin business in return for beating up and killing Communists on the docks there. Even before that there was the deal with Lucky Luciano in WWII.

    In short most military interventions since WWII have a component of drug trade as part of the operation, usually handled by CIA contract agents. Having a war on drugs while supplying the drugs guarantees an endless war.

    There was an interesting interview over at Truthdig! a few months back with someone positing that putting drugs into the black community is a means of keeping a class of Americans economically depressed and thus depressing wages among the working class.

    While mainstream thought refuses to admit it, the long and documented connection between drug importation and that dark agency so wed to our corporatist leaders seems downright logical.

    Jim Crow (none / 0) (#11)
    by aahpat on Sun Oct 07, 2007 at 10:26:15 AM EST
    becomes ever more aggressive as election cycles gear up.

    The mass disenfranchisement of minorities and the poor becomes more imperative as right-wing politicians need to campaign to their "middle class" Read 'white' constituencies.

    Look at how much Barack Obama evades campaigning to the interests of poverty oppressed and minority urban Americans. He has been dragged into addressing any sociel justice issue in any terms other than how it benefits those not oppressed rather than confronting the issues of social oppression.

    incarceration and national security (none / 0) (#12)
    by aahpat on Sun Oct 07, 2007 at 10:30:05 AM EST
    This past week the Join Economic Committee of the congress held hearings on mass incarceration. One of the main issues was that criminalizing huge numbers of young Americans makes them ineligible for military service.

    The recruitable population is falling critically low thanks to the drug war's mass incarceration and criminalization of the population. Especially minorities who used to feel that military service was a way to rise up out of poverty and social inequity.

    Flood poverty oppressed communities (none / 0) (#13)
    by aahpat on Sun Oct 07, 2007 at 10:47:18 AM EST
    with illicit economic opportunity and poor people will take the only  opportunity presented to them. It becomes a matter of shooting fish in a barrel.

    American consumer demand for intoxicant drugs is worth between $ 322-500 billion a year depending on the estimate. US Illicit drug market value calculator

    Offer poor people the choice between hunger and breaking the law and many will choose to break the law.

    As populations of criminalized people return to their communities they becoem easy targets for lazy police and prosecutors looking more to rack up high arrest and prosecution rates than to protecting society.

    I highly recommend listening to the two hour hearing by the U.S. congress Joint Economic Committee this past week titled, "Mass Incarceration in the United States: At What Cost?"


    Oh really? (none / 0) (#16)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Oct 07, 2007 at 07:53:42 PM EST
    As populations of criminalized people return to their communities they becoem easy targets for lazy police and prosecutors looking more to rack up high arrest and prosecution rates than to protecting society.

    Police are charged with enforcing the "law."

    So you claim they these folks haven't broken the "law?"

    Before you reply, remember I am against the current "drug war."


    Really? (none / 0) (#17)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Oct 07, 2007 at 07:55:50 PM EST
    As populations of criminalized people return to their communities they becoem easy targets for lazy police and prosecutors looking more to rack up high arrest and prosecution rates than to protecting society.

    So you claim they they haven't broken the "law?"

    Before you reply, remember I am against the current "drug war."