The Great Racial Divide

Does Wisconsin have a racial disparity when it comes to locking up minorities for crimes? According to John McAdams, Marquette University’s resident wingnut professor of political science, the answer is no. Professor McAdams posits that blacks are disproportionately imprisoned because they commit more crimes. In fact, McAdams cites a recent report he wrote as proof of his point, arguing blacks served essentially the same sentence as whites for a violent crime, but about five months less for a property crime. For a drug crime, black offenders served about 1.5 months less than a white would.

What’s really interesting about professor McAdams’ conclusions are the fact that they fly in the face of a recent report by the Wisconsin Sentencing Commission, a report that indicates:

  • African-Americans and Hispanics convicted of drug trafficking in Wisconsin are more likely to wind up in prison than white drug dealers, according to a report on race and sentencing by the state Sentencing Commission.

Further, the report goes on to say:

  • Compared with whites, Hispanics are 2 1/2 times as likely to be imprisoned, while blacks are nearly twice as likely to end up behind bars for dealing drugs, according to the report issued last month.

What I found to be most interesting is a statistic that showed in less serious Class E drug offenses, 66% of Hispanics and 61% of blacks were imprisoned, compared with 30% of the whites sentenced. Blacks were twice as likely as whites to go to prison. Now maybe professor McAdams doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of disparity, but as I look at those numbers, I sure am seeing a very obvious disparity between the rates of incarceration for black and Hispanic offenders versus the rates of incarceration for white offenders.

Here’s another interesting tidbit from the report by the Wisconsin Sentencing Commission:

  • Among all offenses examined, compared with whites, black offenders were 1.7 times as likely to receive a prison sentence, while Hispanic offenders were almost twice as likely to go to prison.

What really disturbs me about these numbers isn’t the fact that more blacks than whites are getting sent to prison; it’s the fact that blacks are far more likely than whites to be sent to prison for the same crime. That’s a disparity, and that’s just not the way things ought to be. Professor McAdams can try to spin the numbers any way he wants, but he can’t run from the fact that there is in fact a racial disparity when it comes to how our criminal justice system works.


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