Study: Iowa Has Second Worst Rate of Racial Disparities in Arrests for Drug Possession

A series of statistics from the FBI and other government data show that a black person in Iowa is about seven times more likely to be arrested for drug possession than a white person in the state, even though studies show that the two races use illicit drugs at roughly the same rates.

Only Montana had a wider racial disparity.

“We treat people in our criminal justice system differently,” said Veronica Fowler, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa.

This most recent study expands on the findings of an earlier ACLU report that examined only marijuana possession, in which Iowa ranked the worst in the country in racial disparities, with a black person in Iowa being eight times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person.

The new report looked at illicit drugs in general, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines and prescription drugs used for non-medical purposes.

“This report is another indication that the war on drugs is a failed war on drugs, that cracking down and being more draconian for low-level nonviolent drug offenses simply isn`t working, and in fact, it`s backfiring,” said Fowler.

Backfiring because not only does being incarcerated have a profound impact on that individual, but there's a cost to the community.

“In terms of families being left with having only one parent to help with the children, a lot of times children have to grow up without a parental figure and that puts them at risk for other negative outcomes and then the impact of just having a contributing member of society be gone,” said Monic Behnken, Assistant Sociology Professor at Iowa State University.

So why is Iowa one of the worst states for racial disparities in drug possession rates?

“There are structural and institutional barriers that explain these outcomes, and those structural and institutional barriers are lessened in communities where there`s more diversity,” said Behnken. “That`s one of the reasons you will see states that have more diversity having fewer problems with disproportionality than states that have less diversity.”

The professor says another explanation is individuals that harbor implicit bias in the community and that impacts the job that they do.

Nationally, the ACLU says black people are nearly two and a half times more likely than white people to be arrested for drug possession.