Open conversation highlights Progressive Action panel

Racial profiling, criminal justice reform headlines discussion

DAVENPORT, Iowa - The Progressive Action for Common Good teamed up with St. Ambrose University to host a panel discussion with leaders from the criminal justice system in the area. 

"Most people don't think that it's anything to worry about," said PACG member and former Davenport Civil Rights Director Judy Morrell. "And it's a problem nationwide, certainly it's not just in Iowa, but we are ranked number four in incarcerating the most African Americans per capita."

The panel consisted of eight different leaders from the system, including Davenport Police Chief Paul Sikorski, director of the Iowa Department of Corrections 7th district Waylyn mcCulloh, juvenile court officers and Scott County public defender Jeff Wallace. 

The moderator of the discussion was the president of the Iowa-Nebraska National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Betty Andrews. 

"How are we 13 times more likely to lock up an African America than a white person?" asked Andrews.

The wide variety of panelists was intentional: organizers say there is not one particular point in the system that leads to the racial disparities. However, the panelists acknowledged that there definitely is an issue that needs to be addressed.

"You can go into our facility and look around and you can see that it's a problem, because a disproportionate percentage of our residents are minority," said Waylyn McCulloh of the  Iowa Department of Corrections. McCulloh is also an assistant professor of Criminal Justice at SAU.  "We have to understand the reasons that cause that imbalance."

The forum was meant to educate the public about the problem, inform them of the steps that are being taken, and then look for open discussion and new ideas.

"I think it's important that we let people know what we're doing here in Davenport, some of the progressive things that we're doing, some of the proactive things that we're doing," said Davenport Police Chief Paul Sikorski. "And opening our doors to hopefully having some ideas, having some new ideas, not just for policing but for the criminal justice system."

"This has been going on for quite a few years, this mass incarceration it's going to be difficult to end it," said Morrell. "But we need to get the conversation going."

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