Disparity in Iowa prisons - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Disparity in Iowa prisons

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by John Wilmer

WATERLOO (KWWL) -- The number of African Americans in Iowa prisons is on the rise according to state officials.

Right now more than a quarter of those in prison are African American. Whites make up largest portion, however, with more than 65 percent of the prison population. Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans combined make up around eight percent.

The Iowa Department of Corrections has created a pilot program based in Black Hawk and Polk Counties. These one stop re-entry centers have been created to help offenders get back in their communities successfully. 

Marvin Spencer is the supervisor for the Reentry Center located in Waterloo. The center's goal is to address the high jail rate by putting community based resources in high crime rate African American communities.

"We are trying to make them whole again. Nobody's quite whole again when they have the Department of Corrections looking over their shoulder. We want them to have the confidence and the skills necessary to be able to function out there in the community," Spencer said.

The center also addresses the increase in the number of prisoners who have been charged with drug related crimes.          

"I don't feel and neither does the department feel that incarceration is the appropriate intervention. We need to come up with better community solutions."

But for those inmates to be successful Spencer says the community must play a major role.

"Without an increase in that community support and I'm talking the black community and the community as a whole... We are not going to strengthen the clients that fall under the supervision of the department of corrections," Spencer said.

Last year around 2200 people were admitted to Iowa's prisons. Of those 72 percent were white, 24 percent were black.

According to the US census bureau, in 2007 blacks made up only 2.6 percent of Iowa's population.

Online Reporter: John Wilmer

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