Wisconsin a leader in a lock-em-up nation, especially with African-American men

YOURCOUNTY
Jim Baumgart  Sheboygan County Supervisor

During the last two “Your County” columns, I’ve discussed some shocking information about the high cost of Wisconsin’s prison system. Specifically, that Wisconsin, with a similar population to neighboring Minnesota, spends half a billion dollars more each year on prisons - thus taking funding away from health, education and other important programs.

And that we lock up and spend more then states with higher violent crime.

When area legislators were asked the question why at the July Legislative Breakfast with Sheboygan County supervisors and county department heads, Senator Grothman tried to explain it by suggesting our state was a magnet for some people and because of the type of persons moving into the state.

Those arguments have turned out to be very weak at best.

The following column raises more questions about the state’s lack of innovation in solving the prison problem and excessive prison spending.

“Why Does Wisconsin Lock Up More Black Men Than Any Other State?”, is an item written by Gene Demby, April 24, 2013, in Code Switch.

He discusses a University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee study that reported about 1 in 8 black men of working age (13 percent) are in state prisons or jails. The national average is 6.7 percent.

The state also leads the nation in the percentage of Native American men behind bars (1 in 13).

Demby also points out that about half of all black men in their 30’s and 40’s have been incarcerated at some point. Poverty and unemployment are key issues and, rather then try to solve the issue as Minnesota has, Wisconsin governors and legislators are spending large amounts of money to lock them up in record numbers.

Sara Mayeux, writing in the Prison Law Blog, April 28, 2010, points out that Minnesota passed a community corrections law in the early 1970s and sentencing guidelines in the 1980s in an effort to contain the state’s prison population.

Since then, Wisconsin’s prison population has grown two times as fast as Minnesota’s in the 1990s. She suggests that numbers could easily be lower with some targeted policy reforms.

Wisconsin/Minnesota crime rates are very similar.

The non-profit Awareness Project of Western Wisconsin, in discussing incarceration per 100,000 population throughout the world (2006-2009), lists the United States at 753; Russia - 629; Rwanda - 593; Cuba - 531; Belize - 478; and Georgia - 423 in comparing the United States to some of the more questionable governments in the world.


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