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The racial disparities in Iowa’s prisons continue to rank among the highest in the country, according to the latest analysis by the advocacy group The Sentencing Project. While the state’s Black to white prison ratio has decreased somewhat in recent years, it’s still greater than almost any other state.

Iowa’s Black to white prison ratio is no longer the worst in the nation, as it was in 2007. According to the report released by The Sentencing Project, Iowa’s disproportionate rate of incarcerating Black residents now ranks seventh in the country.

Johnny Pippins, who is currently incarcerated at the Anamosa State Penitentiary, sees this first hand. Pippins, who has degrees in sociology and statistics, spoke with IPR last year about his perception of Iowa’s inequities behind bars.

“I’m looking at these young men whose lives are just irrevocably changed by this. And they didn’t have to be,” Pippins said.

According to the latest analysis, Black Iowans are incarcerated at 9.3 times the rate of white Iowans, a slight improvement from 2016, when the rate was 11.1 to 1.

Still, Black Iowans continue to make up 25 percent of the state’s prison population, despite being just 4 percent of the total population.

Here’s What Is Going On With Afghan Refugees In Iowa
Iowa Public Radio, Kassidy ArenaSeptember 23, 2021 (Medium)

There’s so much going on concerning Afghan refugees and still a lot of unknowns. Here’s a rundown on what the state is said to expect and how Iowans can help.

Who will be coming to Iowa?
The state’s refugee resettlement agencies will still be accepting their already-scheduled arrivals on top of an additional number of Afghan refugees.

Most of the arrivals from Afghanistan will be humanitarian parolees, according to Bureau Chief of the Iowa Bureau of Refugee Services Mak Suceska. The Bureau is within the state’s Department of Human Services.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services defines someone on humanitarian parole as an individual who was temporarily brought to the U.S. (who would have otherwise been inadmissible to the country) because of an emergency in their country of origin. Most are at risk in Afghanistan for religious, political, cultural or a combination of reasons.

“These are individuals who have not received SIV designation, who may or may not have been in the SIV process, or who may have not worked with United States military and who arrived directly from Afghanistan, essentially picked their things up, got on an airplane, arrived to a military base here in the United States and were processed for certain legal status,” Suceska explained.

A Special Immigration Visa (SIV) is reserved for people who assisted the U.S. military. A translator/interpreter fits this description. They are legal permanent residents and have a five-year wait period for citizenship. Those on humanitarian parole, as of now, do not have a time limit associated with their stay in the U.S.

Lawsuit: Iowa’s school mask mandate ban violates disability rights
Iowa Capitol Dispatch, KATIE AKIN September 3, 2021 (Short)

Eleven families have partnered with a disability rights group to sue the state of Iowa over a law that prevents school districts from requiring face coverings.

“Getting HF 847 blocked is urgent for the state of Iowa, because this law puts vulnerable kids in a dangerous situation,” said Rita Bettis Austen, legal director for the ACLU of Iowa. “Schools need to be able to require everyone to wear a mask in order to meet their obligations to these children.”

The ACLU will represent the Arc of Iowa, a disability rights group, and families from across the state in the case. A complaint filed Friday names Gov. Kim Reynolds, Department of Education Director Ann Lebo and 10 school districts as defendants.

Lawmakers dropped the ball in not fixing recount law
Iowa Capital Dispatch, Randy EvansJune 29, 2021 (Short)

The chambers of the Iowa Senate and the Iowa House of Representatives are silent after a busy 2021 session.

Lawmakers teed up bills that addressed a wide assortment of problems, real or imagined.

They decided against an increase in tax revenues for the three state universities. They took away authority of local governments to impose face-mask requirements to combat current or future diseases. They made significant changes in the process for creating charter schools, which will operate with state tax money but will not face many requirements public K-12 schools must follow.

And they rewrote large portions of Iowa’s election laws. There are new restrictions on the use of absentee ballots. Election Day voting hours have been shortened by one hour.

But lawmakers went home without tackling a big inconsistency in how election recounts are conducted.

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver cast the work of the 2021 Iowa Legislature as “generational,” and maybe even “historic.”

“And the work that we’ve done this session, I think will have lasting impact for many years to come,” Whitver told reporters Thursday after lawmakers adjourned for the year late Wednesday.

Whitver’s right about the scope of the Legislature’s work. Lawmakers started with an uncommonly long wish list from Gov. Kim Reynolds and added significantly to the agenda as the session progressed. He’s also right about the potential for long-term effects from the Legislature’s actions, including tax cuts estimated to save Iowans $1 billion over eight years.

Lawmakers worked on a bipartisan basis to address some well-documented problems and their efforts likely will benefit Iowans for years to come. However, the GOP majority also indulged in some historically partisan, baseless and ill-considered legislation that could leave a deep scar on our landscape.

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