• April 1, 2015

Iowa State Daily

Percentage of blacks declining in Iowa's prisons

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Posted: Thursday, November 1, 2007 12:00 am

For the past 20 years in Iowa, the population has not been the only statistic increasing.

Recent statistics on the Iowa Departments of Corrections Web site show that the national number of inmates incarcerated has been on the rise as well.

Over the past 20 years, there has been an 82,000-plus population increase in Iowa. An increase in violent crimes, burglaries and other infractions has accompanied this, leaving Iowa prisons as well as others around the nation brimming to their fullest capacities.

According to the Iowa Prison population forecast, 24.6 percent of prisoners are black, a slight decrease from the previous year's statistics of 26 percent. However, blacks only comprise 2.7 percent of Iowa's population compared to whites at 91.6 percent.

"The biggest factor that has led to this decrease is drug intervention efforts," said Lettie Prell, director of research with the Iowa Department of Corrections.

This disparity between the number of blacks and whites incarcerated has existed for many years.

"In the 1980s, crack cocaine was a large contributing factor to drug crimes," Prell said. "Fortunately, African-Americans are not as involved as they were in the past."

Andrew Hochstetler, associate professor of sociology, said another reason for high incarceration rates is the fact that blacks are more commonly arrested off the streets due to "offending differences of race."

Police are more likely to arrest criminals for committing more serious infractions, such as murder or drug dealing, than lesser infractions, such as shoplifting. Unfortunately, blacks are most commonly found committing the former, leading to an increasing number in prison, Hochstetler said.

"Because there are limited resources, attraction areas to officers are the open drug areas," Hochstetler said.

"It's easier for officers to arrest African-Americans because they are the ones that live in the lower income neighborhoods where they commit drug crimes out in the open."

The ever-existing and ever-widening gap of economic levels between blacks and whites form the basis as to why blacks are found in such a high percentage in prisons.

For example, blacks comprise a greater percentage in the lower income areas than whites, and are found struggling to get by on a day-to-day basis. As a result, drug dealing and murder crimes are abundant in these neighborhoods, leading to a greater presence of blacks in prison.

Although Hochstetler was uncertain of the reason why the number of blacks in Iowa prisons has decreased, he had a few ideas on how to keep it moving in that direction.

He suggested that the first step to take is to take a "look at those areas that you know police are going to arrest [the most]," - the areas where the most serious crimes are committed.

"Beginning early, and with the children [should be a priority]," he said.

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