Iowa’s NAACP chapter is asking state lawmakers to pass a number of significant criminal justice reforms this year. The organization says these reforms will improve the lives of African-Americans in Iowa who are arrested and incarcerated at disproportionately high rates.
Legislative priorities for the NAACP include measures to combat racial profiling, the sealing of juvenile criminal records, and making it easier for people with records to find employment.
"Iowa can never completely be the state where liberties are prized for all people, until we address several areas in which our state is systematically lacking," says Betty Andrews, president of the NAACP's Iowa-Nebraska chapter. "How can we completely prize liberty when Iowa remains at the top, when it comes to disproportionality in locking up African Americans? When black people live in constant fear? When black mothers and fathers always have the conversation with their children about how to safely survive a police encounter?"
State Representative Ako Abdul-Samad of Des Moines says he anticipates a long struggle in accomplishing these goals because he says Iowa needs a “paradigm shift” in its approach to race.
"The reality is, do I think (the reforms) are going to be passed? I would tell you honestly, and I love all my colleagues, but I say 'No,'" says Abdul-Samad. "But I think we are planting the seed for it to be passed. But I think our struggle is long."
Iowa’s governor and state supreme court chief justice say that criminal justice reform is among their main priorities this year.