UNI campus.

UNI campus.

The day-long Iowa Criminal Justice Summit is underway in Cedar Falls. Wayne Ford of Des Moines, a former state legislator, spoke on panel about proposals that would address the racial disparity in Iowa prisons.

“I’m looking at this unique crowd here from the supreme court justice to judges. I’m telling y’all. You’ve got to make a difference. I’m telling you the future looks bright because very few states can come together and show a legacy of hanging blacks to helping blacks,” Ford said.

Van Jones, a former advisor to President Obama, spoke over the noon-hour. He’s the founder of #cut50, a group that aims to cut the prison population in half by 2025. Jones was joined by Mark Holden, legal counsel to Koch Industries. Koch is owned by the billionaire brothers who are prominent Republican donors.

The chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court spoke late this morning, saying the goal of equal justice may only be achieved “when justice is seen and felt by all.”

“The difficulty of the task is great, but the benefits of success far, far greater,” Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady said. “The time is now. It is time to listen, it is time to understand and it is time to act.”

Nearly 10 percent of the adult black men in Iowa are either in prison or have been sentenced to prison. Cady said it’s time for a “new understanding” of racial bias in the criminal justice system.

“A voice for justice must be heard,” Cady said, “not a voice to debate or to argue, but a voice to inform, to challenge, to inspire.”

Cady touted some changes already made, such as juvenile diversion courts that give judges another option besides prison time for teenagers. Cady said all judges in Iowa, including the justices on the Supreme Court, are undergoing to training to “raise consciousness of the problem.”