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In a new report released by the Washington D.C.-based research organization, The Sentencing Project, statistics show that Wisconsin has the highest rate of incarceration amongst Black people.
Despite only making up 6% of Wisconsin’s population, one in every 36 Black adults are in prison in Wisconsin. Black people make up 42% of the state’s prison population and are incarcerated at 12 times the rate of White people in the state, according to the report.
The U.S. is the world’s leader in incarceration, with over 2 million people in jail or prison.
Clarence Nicholas, president of Milwaukee’s NAACP chapter, said he was “disheartened but not surprised” with the contents of the report. He said Black people in Wisconsin have long suffered from systemic racism that creates disadvantages in employment, housing and education, which feeds into inequities of the criminal justice system.
Key Findings and recommendations
- Black Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at nearly 5 times the rate of White Americans. Nationally, one in 81 Black adults per 100,000 in the U.S. is serving time in state prison.
- Wisconsin leads the nation in Black imprisonment rates; one of every 36 Black Wisconsinites is in prison.
- In 12 states, more than half the prison population is Black: Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.
- Seven states maintain a Black/white disparity larger than 9 to 1: California, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Wisconsin.
- Latinx individuals are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is 1.3 times the incarceration rate of whites. Ethnic disparities are highest in Massachusetts, which reports an ethnic differential of 4.1:1.
- Eliminate mandatory sentences for all crimes.
Mandatory minimum sentences, habitual offender laws, and mandatory transfer of juveniles to the adult criminal system give prosecutors too much authority while limiting the discretion of impartial judges. These policies contributed to a substantial increase in sentence length and time served in prison, disproportionately imposing unduly harsh sentences on Black and Latinx individuals.
- Require prospective and retroactive racial impact statements for all criminal statutes.
The Sentencing Project urges states to adopt forecasting estimates that will calculate the impact of proposed crime legislation on different populations in order to minimize or eliminate the racially disparate impacts of certain laws and policies. Several states have passed “racial impact statement” laws. To undo the racial and ethnic disparity resulting from decades of tough-on-crime policies, however, states should also repeal existing racially biased laws and policies. The impact of racial impact laws will be modest at best if they remain only forward looking.
- Decriminalize low-level drug offenses.
Discontinue arrest and prosecutions for low-level drug offenses which often lead to the accumulation of prior convictions which accumulate disproportionately in communities of color. These convictions generally drive further and deeper involvement in the criminal legal system.
Recently, Philadelphia became the first major city in the U.S. to ban minor traffic stops in an attempt to improve police-community relations. In a 14-2 majority vote from Philadelphia’s City Council, the city approved groundbreaking legislation that will bar it’s police officers from pulling over drivers for low-level motor vehicle offenses