When the trouble erupted in Ferguson, MO, in 2014, Kurt Friese penned this essay on the subject of white privilege. He has seen it operate from the inside, and understands its inherent unfairness. He knows that even despite the relatively low percentage of African-Americans in Iowa, city and county officials across the state have arrested black citizens at a rate 10 times that of whites. There is always room for improving the ties between law enforcement and the community.
Improving community engagement at all levels takes time, and it takes buy-in from everyone involved. Civil Governance is a start, but everyone needs "skin in the game." Law enforcement, private citizens, and elected officials all must play a role in furthering cooperation and improving communication.
Kurt was proud to put forward a resolution commonly referred to as "Ban the Box," effectively ending discrimination against the formerly incarcerated in county hiring practices. It eleiminated the question about past convictions on county job applications, while preserving the need for background checks for sensitive positions, yet saving that for the end of the process, not the beginning, so applicants are not intimidated from seeking employment with the county.
The Inside-Out Reentry program is instrumental in helping people re-adjust to life "on the outside," and it was also vital to the effort to pass Kurt's resolution. He remains a staunch supporter of their efforts.
The Courthouse and jail
Kurt Friese has opposed bond issues for the expansion of the Justice Center in the past, however the time has come for at least some improvements.
Johnson County’s present Courthouse is a century old and is no longer adequate to meet our needs. When the jail was built, Johnson County was less than half as populous as it is today. Citizens who use these buildings have their safety compromised. The courthouse does not meet accessibility standards. The jail is unsafe for workers and inmates alike. This compromises the safety of the public and the employees.
There are not enough offices or courtrooms to match the number of employees or needs of people seeking justice. We are behind the times. Some of these problems may be addressed through current government resources, but not all of it. That is why the county leased space in the MidwestOne building across the street, but that is a temporary measure and is still not enough.
To reduce the stresses on the jail: We must continue to practice and expand Restorative Justice (example here). We must continue to strengthen diversion and treatment programs, address local racial disparities in the jail population, reduce pretrial detention and exercise discretion in prosecution especially in cases of addiction and/or mental illness. Addiction and mental illness are not crimes and ought not be treated as such. Greater awareness on the part of government employees and the society in general will go a long way toward lifting the stigma.