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Wisconsin’s Incarceration Problem

President Obama pardoned 13 people last week and commuted the sentences of eight others.  Each of these commuted sentences was related to violations concerning crack cocaine.  President Obama was able to do so by invoking the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.  Prior to the passage of the FSA, possession of crack cocaine held a far more stiff sentence than possession of powder cocaine.  This was widely believed to be aimed at incarcerating African Americans because for those who use cocaine, blacks are more likely to be caught with crack whereas whites are generally caught with the powder form.

The US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, both per capita and in real numbers.  Although we are only 5% of the world’s population, we possess 25% of the world’s prison population.  Globally speaking, comparable countries incarcerate at a rate of 100 people per 100,000, but the US rate is 500 per 100,000.  These rates are even more alarming when broken down by race:

Race                    Rate (Per 100,000)

Black                    3,074

Latino                  1,258

White                   459

Wisconsin is no exception.  Wisconsin ranks #1 in the country for our rate of incarcerating African Americans.  The state’s incarceration rate is 12.8%, meaning that one in eight black men are currently in state prison.  In Milwaukee, the numbers are even more stark.  More than half of the black men in Milwaukee have been incarcerated at one point or another, leaving them virtually unemployable as more and more employers run routine background checks.  2/3s of them are in the cities 6 poorest zip codes.

Incarceration rates:

Race            Wisconsin           National

Black           12.8%                   6.7%

Native         7.6%                     3.1%

Latino         1.7%                      2.0%

White          1.2%                      1.3%

Governor Doyle had created a commission to look into this issue, determine its cause, and find a resolution.  Unfortunately, by the time the commission finished their report, Doyle’s term was nearly over.  Unless he is keeping it quiet from the media, Scott Walker has done little with this information,

This issue leads to many other questions:  What happens if Wisconsin adopts a private prison system that gives corporations a financial incentive to lock up our citizens?  Should parts of the Civil Rights Act be expanded to the state of Wisconsin?  Could this be a ploy to strip African Americans of their right to vote (at least temporarily)?  Are these numbers legit and we just have more of a problem than other states?

It would be hard to believe that Wisconsin simply has more of an issue than other states.  However, the other questions deserve investigation.  Private prisons are growing rapidly in our country.  This issue should unite liberals and civil libertarians because none of us want a police state, nor do we want someone to have a financial interest in our incarceration.

Perhaps the recently gutted Civil Rights Act should be reinstated and expanded to states in the north as well as the south.  The republicans will stop at nothing to rig the system in a way that stops Democratic voters from casting their ballots.  Could this be another strategy for them to hold on to power as long as possible, despite the demographic shift in this country?  This problem goes back farther than Scott Walker’s reign of power, but he sure doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to change the situation.

Hear our thoughts on this topic and many more on Civil Discourse Radio!



5 comments to Wisconsin’s Incarceration Problem

  • Edward Susterich

    Don’t expect Governor Walker or the Republicans to address this issue. Incarceration of Afro-Americans is part of their voter suppression scheme.


  • nonquixote

    Author Michelle Alexander, Incarceration Nation was Moyer’s guest. Not to be Missed.

    Thanks for bringing the topic, Eric.


  • Eric, thanks for posting this.

    It’s also worth noting that Wisconsin incarcerates at a far higher rate than Minnesota, which is a very comparable state to ours in terms of population size, makeup, etc.

    In fact, according to the most recent data I could find there were just over 9,500 inmates in Minnesota prisons in June 2012, while Wisconsin’s inmate populate hovers near 20,000. What’s more, Minnesota has around 18,000 individuals on some form of community supervision (probation/parole while there are over 66,000 on some form of supervision in Wisconsin.


  • AJ

    Wisconsin has a high incarceration rate and these poor policies have been built on for years. Our racial breakdown of incarceration is very poor but I believe that can be fixed by changing state policy to reflect neighboring Minnesota that has a lower incarceration rate as Zach brought up.


  • jerry person

    Scott Walker remembers creating jobs as assemblyman in Wisconsin . It was easy with ALEC. 32000 UNION public sector jobs. It is not as easy this time with out using your tax dollars. Scott Walker has created ALL Wisconsin`s budget problems working for ALEC. In 1997 Walker and Prosser as state assemblymen championed for ALEC with truth in sentencing telling the legislatures it would not cost a dime it was to give judges not parole boards the control over sentencing. Then Walker filibustered to stop sentencing changes after the fact misleading ALL the legislatures. With out the sentencing changes Wisconsin`s prisons quadrupled over night. Most people sentenced to 2 years now had to serve as much as 6o years. It shows Wisconsin has wasted 100 billion if you add the numbers to the state budget since 1997. Not including the building new or remodeling of 71 courthouses & 71 county jails & 441 police stations and dozens of prisons 28 billion plus interest. The total is over 28 BILLION plus the 60 Billion spent by social services to support prisoners families because the bread winner was a political prisoner as US Att gen Eric Holder explained. Then farming out prisoners in several states until the courts realized it was not allowed in the Wisconsin constitution. Wisconsin then hired 32000 union public sector workers to fill the jobs housing the prisoners from deputies , judges, district attorneys all owe Walker for creating there jobs. 32000 UNION PUBLIC SECTOR JOBS. This cost taxpayers over 3.8 billion or a half million per day to house these EXTRA prisoners per day in Milwaukee county alone. Wisconsin claims it has 24,000 prisoners compared to Minnesota`s 5500. Wisconsin`s corrections population is 104,000 with many in half way house and county jails and county prisons that are not counted.


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