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Iowa has become the first state to pass a law that will require examination of the racial and ethnic impact of all new sentencing laws prior to passage. Iowa Governor Chet Culver signed the legislation Thursday afternoon. “This means when members of the General Assembly and Executive branch are considering legislation of this nature, we will now be able to do so, with a clearer understanding of its potential effects — positive and negative — on Iowa’s minority communities,” Culver said in a statement posted on his Web site. Representative Wayne Ford, a Democrat, authored the legislation, which is called the Minority Impact Statement Bill. “I believe that we need to be tough on crime, but we must also make sure that our laws are fair and equitable,” Ford said in a news release from The Sentencing Project, a national non-profit organization that conducts research and advocacy on criminal justice policy issues. The legislation comes after July’s report from The Sentencing Project, which found that Iowa incarcerates blacks at a rate of 13 times of whites, more than double the national average. The state had the highest rate of racial disparity, according to the report, called “Uneven Justice: State rates of incarceration by race and ethnicity.” Iowa is the first state to pass legislation examining the racial and ethnic impact of new criminal justice policies, according to The Sentencing Project. Similar bills are pending in Connecticut and Illinois, while Oregon was the first state to introduce similar legislation last year. While blacks account for only 2% of Iowa’s population, they make up 24% of its prison population, according to the governor’s office.

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