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New study shows Wisconsin leads nation in Black imprisonment rates

A new study by the Sentencing Project finds that 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.” The study also examines incarceration rates for Latinx individuals. If you’re thinking “deja vu,” consider this data point: When prisons are described as being “more black,” people are more supportive of harsh policies that contribute to the disparity.

Three explanations for the disparity in imprisonment have emerged from dozens of studies: a legacy of racial subordination; biased policies and practices (pre-trial detention, criminal history records, prosecutorial charging); and structural disadvantages.

The Sentencing Project study recommends: eliminating mandatory sentences for all crimes, requiring prospective and retroactive racial impact statements for all criminal statutes, and decriminalizing low-level drug offenses.

Recall that in January 2020 the Wisconsin Supreme Court commissioned a study on racial disparity in sentencing. One of its findings was: “Among men, a clear pattern emerges where American Indians, Black, and Hispanic defendants are more likely than Whites to be sentenced to prison versus another outcome like jail, probation or a fine.”

SCOW’s study became public a year later when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel requested a copy and published an article about it.  Read more here. 


{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Daniel Chapman October 15, 2021, 12:26 pm

    “Imprisonment rate” = # of black people imprisoned per 100k population in the state. Study does not take into account the actual state of origin of the prisoners, and it does not adjust for the TOTAL imprisonment rate in the state. Yes, states that tend to imprison more people will tend to imprison more black people.

    And from that, they conclude we’re all racists. What a lazy study.

  • admin October 19, 2021, 8:17 am

    The study notes that Wisconsin’s per-capital Black imprisonment rate is 11.9 times that for Whites; this is the second highest such discrepancy in the nation. So, it’s not the case that our overall imprisonment rate (which is actually middle of the pack for a state) accounts for the high Black incarceration rate.

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