A task force examining Iowa’s prisons is recommending changes in sentences and a greater emphasis on inner-city development. One in 12 black Iowa men are either in prison or on probation — the highest rate of incarceration of blacks in any state. Governor Tom Vilsack appointed the task force two years ago, when 24 percent of the state’s prison population was black — and that statistic hasn’t really changed in the past two years. He says the simplest thing is to conclude the problems are in the law enforcement community. But, Vilsack says the problems are inherent in the inner city, where kids are destined for a life of crime even before they’re born.Vilsack says it’s important to encourage blacks to own businesses in inner cities, as kids today often see the crack dealer as the only successful local businessman. He says it’s disturbing that inner city kids think crime is their only way out.Among the task force recommendations: lowering the penalty for dealing crack cocaine to make it identical to dealing powdered cocaine, and encouraging school teachers to get tougher and keep the troubled kids in school rather than expell ’em. Wayne Ford of Des Moines, Iowa’s only black legislator, was co-chair of the task force. Ford says there are a lot of young teachers who have no idea of how to deal with this “new culture” of earrings and colored hair. He says if you want to be a teacher you need to “put up and shut up” and learn about this new culture.The task force also recommends a statewide internship program for black youth and expansion of a program which links high school seniors who’re minorities with jobs.
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