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Iowa Public Radio’s talk shows are examining Iowa’s corrections system for our summer series, which will run through July. With help from Iowa Public Radio reporters we’re looking at issues that have been in the news recently, like treatment for Iowa’s sex offenders.  We’ve discussed the purpose of prison, and how our view of that purpose shapes how we run and fund our correctional institutions.  We’ll be examining the perspective of crime victims and their role in the corrections system.  We’ll talk about commutation and clemency in the wake of the Rasberry Williams case. We’re also planning shows on the community corrections system and its role in monitoring and treating offenders;  how mandatory minimum sentences have impacted the makeup of Iowa’s prison population;  the increasing incarceration of women and how having parents in prison impacts families;  what it looks like to age and die in prison, and the role God plays in prison;  the various programs that exist to help prisoners through their daily lives, and to help them succeed once they leave prison;  and the difficulty of finding and keeping employment outside prison, and how that impacts recidivism. If you have suggestions, or would like to offer your expertise or story for our series, please contact Executive Producer, Katherine Perkins, at kperkins@iowapublicradio.org.

Abdul-Samad: 'White Folks Can’t Teach You About Racial Profiling'

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Joyce Russell/IPR
Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad (D-Des Moines)

Racial profiling by Iowa law enforcement was under discussion Tuesday at the annual Summit on Justice and Disparities, sponsored by the NAACP.   The gathering focuses each year on the disproportionate presence of African-Americans in Iowa’s Criminal Justice System.  

Held on the Ankeny campus of Des Moines Area Community College, the program included panels on getting more black people on juries, disrupting the school to prison pipeline, and racial profiling by police.  

Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, an African-American legislator from Des Moines, argued that training to prevent blacks from being targeted for arrests won’t work unless they are involved in the training.

"You don't live in these shoes." -Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad

"How do you deal with somebody teaching about racial profiling, racial bias, that's from Belle Plaine Iowa, that ain't seen nothing about black people except on television," Abdul-Samad said.   "You can't work that way."

Abdul-Samad appeared on a panel that included the heads of the Iowa Departments of Corrections and Human Services and a Polk County Sheriff official.   The legislator referred to the panelists as “my brothers of another color.”  

“And they don’t know nothing about me,” Abdul-Samad said.   “They can’t talk about my situation.”

Currently two African-American men are suing Des Moines police officers after allegedly being pulled over, searched, and detained without cause in an incident in July.  A bill to ban racial profiling in Iowa failed to advance in the Iowa legislature.

Attendees at the summit learned that African-American men currently make up 25 percent of the Iowa prison population, while comprising only 3 percent of the population as a whole.   At the same time, Iowa has dropped from No. 1 in the nation to No. 3 for the number of African-Americans per capita in the criminal justice system.

Director of the Iowa Department of Corrections Jerry Bartruff said the state has improved its record on recidivism for African-Americans.

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Joyce Russell/IPR

“African-Americans and people who are not African-Americans now recidivate at the same level,”  Bartruff said. 

Speaking for the Judicial Branch, state court administrator Todd Nuccio outlined proposals for including more African-Americans in jury pools.

“Right now we’re implementing a new jury application and part of that implementation is going to strive for greater representation and inclusiveness of our jury lists,” Nuccio said.