Media Contact

Betty Andrews, President of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP State Area Conference of Branches

Veronica Lorson Fowler, ACLU of Iowa Communications Director

September 28, 2023

Update: This press release previously stated that Iowa ranks 8th worst in the country, but it actually ties for 7th worst. The text below has been updated to reflect that. 

Des Moines, Iowa — Iowa ranks 7th worst in the country in the disproportionate number of Black people in prison compared to white people, according to a new analysis of U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics data.

Wednesday the Prison Policy Initiative, a national think tank addressing overcriminalization in our society, released a wide range of statistics and state-by-state comparison data based on a new data analysis tool.

Iowa tied with three other states—Utah, Nebraska, and Minnesota—in Black people being 9.1 times more likely that a white person to be put in prison. (Terminology note: "Prisons" refers to Iowa's nine prisons. "Jails" refers to the county jails located in most Iowa counties.)

The analysis gives new insights into areas where Iowa's legal system disproportionately impacts Black Iowans, as well as other people of color:

  • White people make up 84 percent of the state population but only 64 percent of the prison population.
  • Black people make up 4 percent of the Iowa population but 25 percent of the prison population.
  • Hispanic people make up 6 percent of the population but 7 percent of those in prison.
  • American Indian/Alaska Native Non-Hispanic Iowans make up .2 percent of the population but 2 percent of the prison population.
  • Asian/Non-Hispanic people are 2 percent of the state population and there is no data in the analysis of their representation in prisons.

The study affirms yet again that Iowa ranks among the worst states in the country in racial disparities in its prisons. Other studies by The Sentencing Project have also found Iowa ranked among the worst in prison racial disparities.

"How many more studies will it take for Iowa to fully address this continuing crisis? These disparate findings underscore the need for systemic reform," said Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa Nebraska NAACP and founder of the Iowa Summit on Justice Disparities, ( which will be held November 3 in Ankeny. “Our state must take action in every facet of the justice process," she said.

Mark Stringer, ACLU of Iowa Executive Director, said the numbers released Wednesday "provide yet more statistics that show once again that our state is failing to treat all Iowans equally under the law."

For example, Iowa also ranks among the worst states for arresting Black people for marijuana possession, with a Black person in Iowa being 7.3 times more likely to be arrested for that offense than a white person, even though studies show that both groups use at about the same rate.

"The cards are stacked against Black Iowans in our legal system every step of the way," said Stringer

Other disturbing statistics pulled together by the Prison Policy Initiative show what other studies have also found—a pattern of systemic inequality at all stages of the legal system:

iowa racial disparities