Iowa has long had one of the country’s worst racial disparities in the criminal justice system. A 2016 report by Ashley Nellis for The Sentencing Project showed the incarceration rate for African Americans in Iowa was the fourth-highest among the 50 states, with approximately one in seventeen adult black males imprisoned. Iowa ranked third-worst in the nation for racial disparity, with an incarceration rate for African Americans eleven times higher than the rate for white people.
Over the past year, the Iowa Department of Corrections has formally recognized the problem and its responsibility to provide a bias-free environment for incarcerated individuals and those in community-based corrections programs. The department has also taken several concrete steps to improve staff training and identify possible sources of racial disparities.