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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Black Leaders Want Funds for Re-Entry Services for Prisoners

Black leaders want funds for re-entry services for prisoners
By JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD, Courier Staff Writer

WATERLOO --- An expansion of Waterloo's correctional-based facilities --- a move lauded by state Democrats --- drew some criticism at an event for State Rep. Deborah Berry, D-Waterloo.

House Speaker Pat Murphy, D-Dubuque, visited the Talk Shop Cafe, 1015 E. Fourth St., on Monday to lend his name to Berry's re-election bid this fall. When taking questions from the audience, leaders in the black community criticized the Legislature for allocating $6 million to expand the number of beds at Waterloo's correctional facility.

Social activist David Goodson, who helps prisoners re-enter society through his nonprofit Social Action Inc., scolded the Legislature for not using the money to beef up services like counseling and job and housing searches.

"I'm disappointed in the Democrats' accomplishments in the area of community-based corrections," he said. "We want you to champion this issue in the Statehouse."

Last week, Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Waterloo, said the move was a first step in eliminating crowding and Iowa's high black incarceration rate. A 2007 study released found Iowa led the nation in the percentage of blacks in prison.

The Rev. Michael Blackwell, director of the University of Northern Iowa's Center for Multicultural Education and a Democrat candidate for Black Hawk County supervisor, said community leaders had been meeting with key state officials to secure funding for more re-entry services.

In fact, those talks, Blackwell said, are a reason why the governor reserved money in the state budget for correctional-based facilities. That's why finding out later that the funds would be used for additional beds was so disappointing, he said.

"We were looking forward to getting this money," he said.

Murphy encouraged them to continue meeting with state officials to secure the funds in the next legislative session.

"Not everything happens in one year," he said. "It's not a dead issue. Don't feel frustrated that it didn't happen this year."

Discussions in Iowa:

Rights Economy Environment State Government About Us
Why Are So Many Blacks in Prison? Panel to Discuss Issue Tonight
by: Dana Boone
Sep 13, 2007 at 11:39 AM

Participants will discuss why a disproportionate number of African-Americans are imprisoned in Iowa during a town hall meeting tonight in Waterloo.
This first-in-the-nation status is nothing to gloat about: Iowa tops the nation for imprisoning blacks at a rate 13.6 times that of whites, according to national study released in July by The Sentencing Project. Latinos here are imprisoned 2.5 times the rates of whites.

The meeting will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at Payne AME Church, 1044 Mobile St., in Waterloo. A panel of judges, prosecutors, prison and law enforcement officials, state lawmakers and others will discuss possible reasons for the disparities.

To read more:

Iowa Independent: What will it take to end racial (prison) disparaties

No one has the solution.
Not the judges who hand down sentences. Not the law-enforcement and prison officials who work in the trenches. Not the community activists who are fighting to keep Iowa's African-Americans out of prison.

No one seems to know exactly what it will take to end the complex factors involved in blacks being imprisoned in Iowa at a rate a national study showed was 13.6 times that of whites.

More than 250 people gathered for more than three hours Thursday night to discuss racial disparities in the criminal justice system. They met with a panel of judges, court officers, a prosecutor and community leaders at Payne Memorial AME Church in Waterloo.

They admit they don't have all the answers. Still, they have ideas about why the disparities exist and a sense of urgency to find solutions that work.

Racism. Drugs. Deficient school systems. Unemployment. Lack of personal responsibility and discipline. Broken families. Hopelessness. The panel, audience and presenters cited these reasons and many others as contributing to the racial disparities detailed in a study by the Sentencing Project.

"Race is still the decisive factor in who goes to jail and who goes home," said David Goodson, founder of Social Action Inc., a Waterloo agency that helps black male adolescents with life skills and employment, and forum organizer.

The Rev. Belinda Creighton-Smith, a meeting analyzer, said racism plays a definite role in the problem.

"It's so easy to blame the victim," she said. "It's going to take just as much courage to ask, `What is going on inside of me that is making it easier for me to do this to this person who is of darker hue than I'm doing to the other person.'"

To read more:

Iowa Department of Corrections - Report to the Board of Corrections:

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