Wisconsin Imprisons Black and Native American Men at Twice the National Rate

Wednesday, October 09, 2013
(photo: Portnoy, AP)

Wisconsin, much to its dismay, is a leader in more than just dairy farms and cheese. It’s also the national leader, by far, in incarcerating African-Americans and Native Americans.


Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee decided to look at their state’s prison system to see where Wisconsin stood vis-à-vis the rest of the United States. They were surprised to learn that the Badger State was imprisoning Native Americans at twice the national average, and Blacks at nearly double the rest of the country.


Nationwide, the incarceration rate for Native Americans is 3.1%. But in Wisconsin, it is 7.6%.


For black men, the U.S. average is 6.7%, while Wisconsin’s rate is 12.8%. In fact, Wisconsin is way above No. 2 on the list, Oklahoma, which imprisons blacks at a rate of 9.7%.


“We were so far above everybody else. That just sort of stunned us when we saw that,” Professor John Pawasarat, who studied two decades of Wisconsin’s prison and employment data, told National Public Radio (NPR).


Pawasarat said the state started locking up African-Americans in droves last decade, when Wisconsin’s Three Strikes law went into effect. That caused a tripling of the prison population, and resulted in about half of the black men in their 30s or early 40s in Milwaukee County spending time in the state’s correctional facilities, he said.


“And two-thirds of the men come from the six poorest zip codes in Milwaukee,” Pawasarat added.


The situation is so bad that Milwaukee County’s district attorney, John Chisholm, says the state should change its mandatory minimum sentencing laws.


“Our incarceration rate is high not necessarily because of the number of offenses and the number of prosecutions. What’s driving our incarceration rate is failure under supervision,” Chisolm told NPR. “If you are placing someone under long terms of supervision without a lot of meaningful conditions then there’s a lot of opportunity to mess that up and if they do that in Wisconsin they can go back for the entire time.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Wisconsin Prisons Incarcerate Most Black Men In U.S. (by Cherly Corley, National Public Radio)

Wisconsin’s Mass Incarceration of African American Males: Workforce Challenges for 2013 (by John Pawasarat and Lois M. Quinn, Employment and Training Institute, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) (pdf)

Prison Sentences for Black Men Are 20% Longer Than Those for White Men for Same Crimes (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


Leave a comment