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Juvenile Justice Group Proposes Statewide Pre-Diversion Programs

A pair of handcuffs lay on top of fingerprints with a key next to them.
Bill Oxford
The Disproportionate Minority Contact Subcommittee helps meet the state's federal requirement to ensure there is not an overrepresentation of minority groups in the juvenile justice system.

A committee within the Department of Human Rights is focusing on reducing the number of minority youth in Iowa’s juvenile detention. Its new initiative will add an extra step before booking youth into the juvenile justice system.

The Disproportionate Minority Contact Subcommittee (DMC) plans to present an initiative for a statewide policy on pre-charge diversion to the Iowa Juvenile Advisory Council. This is the first goal for its three-year plan. The committee focuses on reducing the rate of minorities in juvenile detention.

This idea would essentially mean there will be one more step in the process before a child can be charged with an alleged delinquent act or referred to juvenile court. For example, youth would have the option to attend a program instead of being arrested.

Dave Kuker, with the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning division of the Department of Human Rights, said making this change would reduce the disproportionate rates of Black juveniles in detention centers. He said Black children are almost six times more likely to be arrested than white children.

Black youths make up the highest percentage of misdemeanor allegations in the state. As of right now, Kuker said there are a few local communities who already successfully done pre-charge diversion: Iowa City, Davenport and Fort Dodge.

“We have done some work with this. We don’t have formal, statewide policies yet on that," Kuker said.

LaTasha DeLoach, DMC co-chair in Iowa City, said subcommittee has informally talked about the possibility of a statewide policy on multiple occasions.

"We have seen it be very successful," DeLoach said. "We know that from a DMC standpoint, the least contact that we have with the system, the less likely kids are to be kind of pushed through."

At this point, the committee is not sure whether the practice should be a policy for Juvenile Court Services or state law.

District Court Judge Kevin McKeever said this plan could help reduce the overrepresentation of black youth in the juvenile justice system.

“But based on the data that we’re seeing, I think everyone would agree that some form of pre-charge diversion is likely to produce some of the results that we are looking for," McKeever said.

He said he believes the policy would be more sustainable if it were to become Iowa code.

The pre-charge diversion programs would only apply to misdemeanor allegations. It would also mean the allegation would not appear on the child's record if they attended the program and completed it successfully.

Kuker said this would be especially helpful for youth who intend to have a career in the military or in law enforcement.

Along with statewide pre-charge diversion programs, the subcommittee also plans to propose a statewide policy for JCS to refrain from using detention in the case of parole violation.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines
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