- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Iowa needs to do more to reduce disparities in the number of minorities in the state’s criminal justice system, state and community leaders said Wednesday, expressing hope that an upcoming summit will focus attention on the issue.

Gov. Terry Branstad and other leaders spoke at the Capitol while introducing the two-day summit, scheduled for Aug. 28-29 in Ankeny. The Iowa-Nebraska National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will host with support from the national organization.

Iowa-Nebraska NAACP President Betty Andrews said data show Iowa incarcerates African Americans at a high rate and that other minority groups are also greatly affected. She noted the current discussion around the country on repeated allegations of police misconduct against blacks.

“As our nation addresses these issues on a national level, let us all remember that Iowa can lead change and we must do something about this overrepresentation of African Americans in the criminal justice system,” she said. “Now is the time.”

Branstad, who will make his first appearance at the annual summit, said Iowa has made progress in combating the problem. He noted his administration meets quarterly with representatives of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP and the Des Moines branch of the NAACP. He also said corrections officials are working with the state’s parole board to reduce the number of people who relapse into criminal behavior after serving prison sentences.

“It is possible in this challenging area of protecting public safety but also of reducing disparity to make progress,” he said. “I know there’s a lot more we can do.”

John Goerdt, deputy state court administrator, said he was present on behalf of the Iowa Judicial Office and Chief Justice Mark Cady, who has spoken openly about racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Goerdt said the judicial office is committed to addressing the issue, and he noted bias prevention training for judges and court staffs and the implementation of a screening system for betting determining when a juvenile may need detention.

Topics at the summit will include implementing a policy on fair hiring practices and banning racial profiling by law enforcement. Community leaders say they hope previously introduced legislation on those issues will pick up momentum next session.

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