Iowa pioneered a common sense approach to reducing minority overrepresentation in the criminal-justice system. Major papers say Oregon should follow.
For the past 48 hours, I have been working with Rep. Wayne Ford (D-Des Moines, Iowa) to build momentum for passage of Racial Impact Legislation here like that which Rep. Ford and Iowa Governor Chet Culver passed in Iowa in '08.
Progressive States Network describes racial impact statements this way:
Racial impact statements are a new tool developed to estimate the disparate racial impacts of criminal justice policies in the same way that fiscal or environmental impact statements describe the budgetary and ecological effects of other policies. This allows legislators to make an informed consideration of the racial impacts when crafting solutions to crime and delinquency, and helps ensure that racial justice costs are included in the public dialogue regarding criminal justice choices.
This morning's Oregonian editorial Still Blind to Sentencing Disparities said:
There is a relatively simple, straightforward policy that could help: Racial impact statements for proposed criminal justice legislation. As it stands, Oregon legislators, like those in most other states, have no idea of the racial impact of bills that affect sentencing, probation or parole policies...But at least lawmakers would know whether the criminal justice bills before them would disproportionately affect minorities, and would make worse the problems that the governor and juvenile justice workers have struggled with for more than a decade. That's worth knowing. Oregon lawmakers should approve racial impact statements at their first opportunity.
And On November 11, The Eugene Register Guard supported Racial Impact Statements Too:
The cost would be small, and most statements would be a few paragraphs in length. It’s possible, however, that such analyses would prevent Oregon from enacting such manifestly unjust laws as the federal statute that led to long sentences for people arrested with crack cocaine, most of them black, and much shorter sentences for people arrested with powdered cocaine, most of whom are white.
Many factors play into disparities in sentencing, notably poverty. But where race and other minority status is a factor, people should be aware of it — Oregonians could then consider changes in criminal law with their eyes open.
A special thanks to Rep. Ford for coming to Oregon for three days to present at the Governor's Summit on Eliminating Disproportionate Minority Contact in Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems and to help me promote the bill as a step in reducing minority overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.
You can hear Rep. Ford and Rep. Lew Frederick (D-North and Northeast Portland) discuss Racial Impact Statement legislation at:
The Urban League State of Black Oregon Town Hall Meeting
Portland Community College, Cascade Campus
Terrell Hall, Room 122
705 N. Killingsworth, Portland
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
5:30 – 7:00 pm