Iowa Justice and Disparity Summit Sheds Light on Areas Needing Improvement

ANKENY, Iowa  --  For the last decade, Iowa has ranked in the top three states for the number of African Americans in the prison system. Local activists are looking for ways to change that.

The Iowa Summit on Justice and Disparities was held in Ankeny on Tuesday. Civilians, politicians, and law enforcement personnel from across the state talked openly about issues like racially-biased policing.

“I feel like talking about it, especially for someone that's Caucasian, talking about it doesn't really happen, there's a little bit of a denial. But when you hear about some real life situations, it really has more impact,” says Shelly Yanecek of Cedar Rapids.

According to a study by the Sentencing Project, African Americans are 11 times more likely to be arrested in Iowa than Caucasians. Those numbers have LaTosha Deloach is rethinking whether Iowa is the best place to raise her children.

"Learning this information, as enlightening as it is, it’s also about my decision making. And I want to be here, I’ve invested a lot of time here, but I do have to think about my children, too,” she says.

Deloach is concerned about the school to prison pipeline that many children of color in inner cities face. Former inmate Joe Harrison says he is a product of that pipeline.

“I ended up getting incarcerated the age of 17. I went in 1996, came out 20 years later, a 37-year-old man," he says.

Harrison is now advocating for better community policing to help kids stay out of trouble and for more resources for adults after they’ve served time. It's a conversation he says starts at the summit, but one that shouldn't end there.

“The conversation is great and the dialogue is good, but I think it’s more about people taking action versus people constantly keep coming to these meetings and nothing really coming from it.”