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Editorial: Seek out criminal justice reform

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | NOVEMBER 12, 2014 5:00 AM

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The relationship between the general population and the numerous facets of the criminal-justice system has proven to be a tumultuous one, with several areas of concern becoming prominent in the news recently. The increased militarization of police forces along with an apparent decline in police accountability has kept a steadfast position in media coverage, most distinctly after the shooting death of Michael Brown and the subsequent riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Furthermore, the prison system as an institution has seen a renewed call for reform, because it is one of the few things both parties can agree on to some extent. What has become apparent is a general demand for transparency and accountability on every level of the criminal-justice system, which is by no means an unreasonable request.

In Iowa, both the issues of substantial increases in the prison population and police accountability have come front and center. The Iowa Department of Human Rights Division of Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning, which utilizes research and statistics to gauge the effectiveness and needs of Iowa’s justice system, has recently released a rather somber prediction for Iowa’s prison population. The report suggests a substantial upward trend in the incarcerated population from “8,119 inmates on June 30, 2014, to about 11,317 inmates on June 30, 2024, or by 39 percent over the 10-year period.”

Even though this is merely a prediction, it raises serious concerns about how the situation will unfold if our policies remain stagnant. The rising prison population is compounded by the issue of the prison capacity or lack thereof. According to the forecast, the female prison population is “projected to exceed capacity by 10 percent in 2024, while the male inmate population is projected to exceed capacity by 37 percent by midyear 2024.” Not only will this become a social issue but a budgetary one as well, as increased resources must be allocated to accommodate these growing numbers.    

The relationships between the justice system and the people need to be strengthened, and focusing on fostering these interactions through measures such as community policing and open dialogues would contribute to reducing tensions. In many ways, the concerns of law-enforcement and the criminal-justice system as an institution go hand in hand. Reform the Johnson County Justice System is an example of this approach locally; the members hope to make the system more accountable by tackling the militarization of police forces, marginalized groups, and police brutality around Iowa City. 

While these are issues that vary greatly state by state, there is much that can be done on the national level with bipartisan efforts. Rampant incarceration that disproportionately affects specific minorities and those from challenged socioeconomic backgrounds is a problem that affects the entire nation. This disparity influences more aspects of society than the incarcerated population alone, and calls for change on this issue are widely supported by the general population. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “U.S state and federal correctional facilities held an estimated 1,574,700 prisoners” in 2013, and numbers such as these warrant a national response. The time is now for reforming the justice system, and a little cooperation among government factions will be vital in making any form of initiative a reality.   


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