With the number of COVID-19 cases increasing, and a rise in deaths from the disease, “social distancing” has become a familiar term and way of life across the country. But how is social distancing possible for people whose days are spent in a 6-by-8-foot cell with another person? How can state and local governments maintain public safety while protecting inmates? How can they prevent outbreaks from starting in correctional facilities, and then spreading to the wider community?
These are some of the questions that have vexed criminal justice administrators, inmates, staff and family members for months.
A new working group in Iowa will look for ways to reduce recidivism among former offenders and eliminate racial bias from the state’s criminal justice system.
Gov. Kim Reynolds asked the group, chaired by Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg — a former state public defender — to deliver recommendations by December, to inform several proposals she will submit to legislators when they reconvene in January.
The racial disparity in Iowa’s criminal justice system is indicated by Bureau of Justice Statistics and census data from 2017 — black Iowans are incarcerated at a rate 9.5 times higher than white Iowans, which is tied with Nebraska for the second highest rate in the Midwest. Both states trail Wisconsin (11.7), and are just ahead of Minnesota (9.2) and Illinois (8.2).