Iowans who work in the fields of education, welfare and juvenile justice will gather this week for a conference focused on reducing youth incarceration rates, especially for minorities. Brad Richardson is the research director at the University of Iowa’s Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) Resource Center – which organized the conference.
“Statewide, if your African-American or Native-American, your chances of being involved in the juvenile judice system are about three times higher than that of white youth,” Richardson said. The DMC Center at the U-of-I has worked for eight years to reduce racial disparities in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Richardson says the disparity problem is clearly caused by the “system’s reaction” to minorities.
“I don’t think there’s anyone out there that thinks it’s anything other than race bias in our systems,” Richardson said. “There have been studies showing that…there’s no more maltreatment (of children) among African-American or Native-American families than white families.” In each of the last two years in Iowa, detention of juveniles for minor offenses was reduced by 15%. The state also made some slight progress in reducing the percentage of minority kids in detention. Richardson calls the results “promising” and believes the trend can continue.
“Awareness raising has been a big part of it and this conference coming up has contributed to that,” Richardson said. Iowa has 10 juvenile detention centers. Richardson says all 10 were previously at capacity, but now they’re not nearly as full.
“For example, in Woodbury County, I know they have 46 beds. A couple years ago, those were always full. In their detention center today, I’m guessing that there’s probably only a third of those slots that are filled,” Richardson said. The conference is scheduled to take place this Thursday and Friday (December 10-11) at the Jordan Creek Marriott in West Des Moines.