[Source: “Discussion of peripheral issues is detrimental,” Press Citizen, 1 May 2013, by Greg Roth, instructor of criminal justice at Kirkwood Community College and a former member of the Iowa City Police Citizen Review Board.]
In order to answer these questions, there must be an accurate standard of measurement of racial disparity. A common standard is comparing racial percentages in jail with racial percentages in the general population. But why is a simple percentage the standard of measure?
Does a generic percentage of a population have anything to do with who should be in jail? Or should the standard of measure be based on those who commit crime? Is the role of jails to reflect the general population or to incarcerate those who have committed crimes?
Also, keep in mind that the sheriff has no control over who receives a jail sentence. Sentencing is a legislative and judicial decision, which makes racial disparity a moot point in the discussion of a new justice center.
Once a person is sentenced, the role of corrections (jail or prison) is to carry out the sentence.
The necessity of a new justice center has no connection to any potential disparity. Any perception of such unlawful disparity should rightly be addressed to those enacting the laws and those who proscribe the sentences.
When public safety is involved, should a new justice center be used as playground leverage when there are more appropriate venues for such discussions.
Likewise, if there is a concern of overcrowding correctional facilities with non-violent offenders, is withholding a new justice center an answer, or even relevant to the discussion.
The citizens of Johnson County are facing a major decision and this decision needs to be based on relevant matters that apply to the subject of a new jail or justice center. Any discussion of peripheral issues is detrimental to the discussion and provides no constructive progress toward solutions.
About the Author. Greg Roth teaches criminal justice at Kirkwood Community College and is a former member of the Iowa City Police Citizen Review Board.