County, city in need of a Racial Equity Impact Assessment

[Source: “County, city in need of a Racial Equity Impact Assessment,” Press Citizen, 1 May 2013, by Dorothy Whiston, a member of the Johnson County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.]

20130501we-dorothy-whistonRacial disparities in our criminal justice system and the over-incarceration of non-violent offenders have been at crisis proportions for many years both nationally and locally. However, opposition to the justice center bond issue is the least effective way to address those concerns.

It will take years of consistent, focused work to overcome these problems. Not coincidentally, the people actively working to remedy these issues are almost all proponents of the new justice center and virtually none of those speaking against it on these grounds have been significantly involved in these on-going efforts.

A local network called the Coalition for Racial Justice (CRJ) has worked to address racial disparity in local law enforcement since 2010. The CRJ includes representatives from a couple dozen non-profits and faith communities, government officials and employees, and concerned citizens.

The CRJ helped get the Iowa City Council to set up an Ad Hoc Diversity Committee last September to look at policing. That committee’s report of March, 2013, has several recommendations, including that the Iowa City Police Department shift its approach to minority communities from “control and monitor” to “protect and serve.”

The report also proposes the city adopt a community policing model and conduct a comprehensive Racial Equity Impact Assessment. These are important first steps since most arrests in the county are by the ICPD.

Now we must all keep the pressure on the city to act on these recommendations.

Conducting an Racial Equity Impact Assessment to focus efforts at overcoming racial disparities is the national standard of practice for achieving evidence-based outcomes. Johnson County has already committed to undertaking such an assessment.

The majority of incarcerated non-violent offenders are people with chronic mental illness and/or serious substance abuse problems. We already have a mental health diversion program that is a national model and our substance abuse diversion and treatment programs are also quite good.

Sadly, no more can be done in these areas until there is adequate space in the jail and courthouse.

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About the Author. Dorothy Whiston is a member of the Johnson County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.

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