Bill targets 'institutionalized racism' in Wisconsin judicial system

2014-01-18T07:30:00Z Bill targets 'institutionalized racism' in Wisconsin judicial systemJESSICA VANEGEREN | The Capital Times | jvanegeren@madison.com madison.com

Racial disparity in the criminal justice system is worse in Wisconsin than anywhere else in the country, studies say, and it's worse in Dane County than the state as a whole.

The Minority Impact Statement bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Nikiya Harris, D-Milwaukee, and Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood, seeks to reverse what Pasch calls “institutionalized racism” by requiring a legislative committee to prepare a racial impact statement any time a new crime is created or a criminal penalty for an existing crime is modified.

If the committee finds that a bill will have a disparate impact on racial minority groups, the bill’s author must either offer an amendment to the bill to reduce the disparate impact or provide in writing their reason for advancing a bill that will disproportionately affect minorities.

“We really have to look at why we are passing laws that create this environment and what these laws are accomplishing,” Pasch said. “Wisconsin leads the nation in incarcerating minority men. That puts a responsibility on us to start addressing this in a meaningful way.”

Lawmakers have until the end of Wednesday to sign on and support the bill as cosponsors. Passage of the bill would make Wisconsin the fourth state to require minority impact statements on criminal legislation. Iowa, Connecticut and Oregon have passed similar laws.

Pasch said too many young, minority males start out their adult lives with criminal records, which prevents them from voting, makes it difficult to get a job, find housing and tears families apart.

“An affluent white man who gets the right attorney will be able to plea bargain down a criminal charge to a misdemeanor while a poor African-American man who can’t afford an attorney will more than likely end up with the felony charge and end up in prison,” Pasch said.

According to a report released this week by the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, Wisconsin leads the nation in the percentage of African-American incarcerated.

While African-American men made up 4.8 percent of Dane County’s total adult male population, they accounted for more than 43 percent of all new adult prison placements during the year, according to the Race to Equity report released by Wisconsin Council on Children and Families in October.

The Race to Equity report also found that in 2012, African-American adults were arrested in Dane County at a rate eight times that of whites. That compares to a black-white arrest disparity of about 4 to 1 for the rest of Wisconsin and 2.5 to 1 across the country as a whole.

The racial imbalances in Dane County’s 2012 incarceration numbers were remarkable as well. While African-American men made up 4.8 percent of the county’s total adult male population, they accounted for more than 43 percent of all new adult prison placements during the year, according to the report.

The report found racial disparity in Dane County begins at a young age for offenders.

For example, in 2010, the county’s black youth arrest rate was 469 per 1,000, compared to 77 per 1,000 for whites, yielding a disparity ratio of 6.1 to 1.

To put this into context, black teens in Dane County in 2010 were six times more likely to be arrested than whites living here, while black youth in the rest of the state were just three times as likely to be arrested as whites and nationally, black youths were only a little more than twice as likely to be arrested than their white peers.

“The legislation is certainly a step in the right direction,” said Erica Nelson, the project director for the “Race to Equity” report. “Beginning to look at policy changes and decision making with a racial equity lenses is really important, especially in places like Dane County. It makes people take a step back and realize the implications of when a before it is enacted.”


Editor's note: This first paragraph of this story has been amended to more accurately reflect the Race to Equity report's characterization of Dane County compared to the rest of Wisconsin.

Copyright 2015 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(21) Comments

  1. mjendres44
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    mjendres44 - January 26, 2014 3:44 pm
    Quibbling about what causes WI's high minority male incarceration rates does not address the arguably bigger problem of what to do with the large numbers of minority men returning to the community with far less hope and social equity then when they were incarcerated... Look, pin pointing the variable or set of variables that account for these effects ignores the very real issue of what to do moving forward... Indeed, the issue is public safety and any blind person can see that WI's "lock em up" and "worry about em later" strategy has shown to be short sighted and has only served to increase the rate of minority incarceration over time, not decrease it. Regardless of the root cause, we all can agree that there is a problem and it is likely to get worse, if left unmitigated. Perhaps now is time that we start proposing innovative ideas to address the problem, instead of blathering on with our 2-cents about why the problem exists.
  2. EWT
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    EWT - January 19, 2014 8:21 pm
    While we are on the subject of disparities, where is the proposed change to equalize the number of women vs men imprisoned? Look at those statistics and it is worse than black vs white. Lets make it that men can't be imprisoned until the numbers of women in prison match their share of the population. Equality!
  3. EWT
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    EWT - January 19, 2014 8:18 pm
    50% of all murders in the country are committed by blacks which make up 12% of the population. 9 out of 10 blacks who are murdered are killed by another black person. That stat is what made Zimmerman a nation wide story. If he had been black, as has been the norm, if would barely have made the local news.
  4. NotleftorrightR
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    NotleftorrightR - January 19, 2014 1:03 pm
    Can anyone think of a place in Wisconsin where a minority has more community support than Dane County and the City of Madison?
    Does the Madison PD allow racism within it's ranks?
    Does the Dane County D.A. turn a blind eye to racisim?
    Do Dane County Judges rule based on racism?
    Can anyone think of a place in Wisconsin which is more liberal than Madison?
    Can anyone think of a place where minorities should see greater success than Madison given the community efforts in pursuit of equity?
    So why do we see this disparity?
    So why are the highly educated citizens of Madison assuming that racism must be the major reason for the problems facing african american community in Madison?
    I have read the Race to Equity, I have read any number of papers about racial disparities in the criminal justice system. These studies all have one thing in common. They refuse to speak about issues which are not in strict compliance with the standard liberal brief system. They refuse to address the issues of the failure of community leaders to encourage and demand accountably of the individual. The studies speak of the legacy of slavery but make no mention of the legacy of welfare which instead of providing a bridge to success has by structure and function encouraged minorities to remain trapped in generational cycles of poverty.
    A much stronger arugment can be made that our failed welfare system is the new form of segregation. Yes racism is a factor and the failed welfare system is a factor, There are many other factors in this complex problem which also must be addresses but you can not ignore that most efforts of the past to level the playing field have failed not because of willingness but because they simply dont work.
    Minorities will suffer until our nation is willing to take a fresh new approach at ending the economic disparity and lower expectations.
    It serves no ones best interests to accept the current situtation. Set aside political and social beliefs and see the problem thru clear lens. Accept discussions of new ideas and criticism of old policies which have failed to obtain the goals intented.
  5. aspyder
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    aspyder - January 19, 2014 8:05 am
    I used to live in Milwaukee and still follow the news there to some degree. Look at the shooting/murders for one. Where are they committed? Whose committing them? Are we supposed to arrest 9 Whites for every person of color for these crimes so our prisons are racially balanced.
  6. aspyder
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    aspyder - January 19, 2014 7:52 am
    Nope, never been arrested!
    To be arrested you need to be involved in questionable, probably illegal, behavior.
  7. MadCityYokal
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    MadCityYokal - January 19, 2014 6:54 am
    [haiku of a sort]

    "Post"-Stereotype Society:
    Deny Racism
    Repeat often in "Comment"s
    "Wallah!" It is GONE!
  8. College Didn't Take
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    College Didn't Take - January 19, 2014 6:47 am
    Yeah, it's about money but it ends up being about race when you check their skin color in the cell block. So are you advocating changing our adversarial justice system to level the playing field for all the participants, ie equal access to legal services regardless of means....that means PAYING FOR IT?
  9. College Didn't Take
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    College Didn't Take - January 19, 2014 6:45 am
    So, you're saying black males who make up only about 10% of the entire population are committing 90% of all crime? Please come out and say that so we can officially ban them from living in WI.
  10. College Didn't Take
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    College Didn't Take - January 19, 2014 6:41 am
    Never been arrested, have you?
  11. rod44
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    rod44 - January 19, 2014 5:49 am
    All good comments. I didn't realize that there were that many people with common sense left in Dane County. Oh ya, those making the comment may be from out of the county!
  12. happydays
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    happydays - January 18, 2014 3:08 pm
    unbelievable - first the schools, now the courts - what's next? or will anything be left? come here - disrupt our schools, our children's educations, rob, molest, assault and if you are the right color - no problem - we need to even this out. Now - if only more white kids would act up, etc - then we could even this out - that would be a solution. No need for these rules/laws - let's just have some other children do the same thing and it will all even out in the end
  13. CriticalThinker
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    CriticalThinker - January 18, 2014 2:08 pm
    There may very well be racial disparity in Dane County due to racism or some similar malady. However, perhaps there is a racial disparity in the crimes being committed. I did a search on Madison.com for "robbery"--arguably one of the most worrisome crimes for non-criminals due to the personal nature of it (as opposed to drugs, which occur unseen to most people). I know my search is unscientific and only a snapshot (I looked back to robberies since January 7th), but the findings are interesting. Here's the race and gender, when given, of robbery suspects:
    - 1/7--Fitchburg gas station: Black male
    - 1/10--Downtown street: 4 Black males
    - 1/10--East Side parking lot: Black male
    - 1/11--East Side party: 2 Black males
    - 1/11--South Side apartment: 2 Black males
    - 1/12--North Side gas station: Black male
    - 1/14--Downtown apartment: 2 Black males
    - 1/14--Monona gas station: Black male
    - 1/16--South Side sub shop: Black male

    Total robbery suspects: 15
    Total Black male robbery suspects: 15

    Again, my search isn't exhaustive or scientific. But, the results give cause for concern. Perhaps the racial disparity in arrests reflects the racial disparity in committing (at least one type of) crime.
  14. aspyder
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    aspyder - January 18, 2014 1:57 pm
    We would have no truancy laws, laws against murder or laws against 'crack' for starters if this idea existed when WI became a state. Is this REALLY the direction we want our laws to go?

    Will a continuation of this thought require existing laws that are more likely to be broken by minorities be removed?

    White guy gets off because of a lawyer? What happened to Miranda rights?
  15. NotleftorrightR
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    NotleftorrightR - January 18, 2014 10:20 am
    A review of the Madison Police Dept's 2012 annual report which shows the numbers for arrest by race would suggest that laws prohibiting offenses like aggravated assault, forcible rape, murder, sex offenses, burglary, forgery,fraud, motor vehicle theft, robbery, theft, vandalsm, weapons offense, all other assaults are all part of the "institutionalized racism" of our criminal justice system and minorities are arrested at much higher rates than whites.
    New laws such as a ban on assault weapons would impact minorities at high rates than whites (Based on nation arrest rates for firearm offenses and minorites, remember the common modern semi-auto handgun used in urban murders and robbery fall under the term assault weapons as defined by the failed Assault Weapon Ban pushed in DC) Madison's ban on firearms in public buildings and on city buses would fall under laws which impact minorities at much high rates (Based on the rate of minorities arrested for weapon offenses).
    The Gun Free School Zone laws result in much high arrest rates for minorities.
    Domestic Abuse laws impact minorities males are much hgh rates. Are Dometic abuse laws part of "institutionalized racism"???
    Notice that I have not talked about drug laws???? Drug use and abuse is a factor in causing others crime and disgrading social order. We need to enforce drug laws as part of comprehensive approach to ending racial and social disparity.
    Crime is the result of social and economic issues. No one has crafted laws to target minorities, it is a myth which is distracting people from the real problems. Minorities need real jobs which will given them economic stability and the foundation to build on. No jobs alone wont fix everything but it is the first step in a long road seeking equity.
  16. legalizeit
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    legalizeit - January 18, 2014 8:53 am
    You hit the nail on the head Billie.
    If the guilt ridden liberal white people who are falling all over themselves to "solve this issue" could pull their neocortex out of their rectum far enough they would look at Dane Co. data and realize we have a stellar reputation in every ghetto within a 1,000 miles of us.
    "Build it and they ..." No No No - I meant " Give it away and they will come"
    If the narcissist liberals could accept the fact that Dane Co and Madison ARE NEVER GOING TO SOLVE THE POVERTY, HOUSING, AND RACIAL DISPARITY PROBLEMS that exist WORLDWIDE , they will continue to look like a bunch of monkeys wiping the backside with a hula hoop... and the same Craapola just goes around and around.
  17. bosco
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    bosco - January 18, 2014 8:47 am
    I think the authors and signers of this bill should first read the Constitution, take a constitution study class and get a job where they understand what their job is. I am surprised more social studies are not being done to show how this is a economic cause because of educational differences caused by cultural differences.
  18. PapaLorax
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    PapaLorax - January 18, 2014 8:13 am
    An affluent white man who gets the right attorney will be able to plea bargain down a criminal charge to a misdemeanor while a poor African-American man who can?t afford an attorney will more than likely end up with the felony charge and end up in prison,?


    Says more about money then race... Ultimately I think you would find that is the real discrepancy. The economic gap is so huge that it drives the criminal and education differences. It makes those problems look racial when I think they are economic.
  19. Billie
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    Billie - January 18, 2014 8:07 am
    Could it be that minorities have often viewed Madison as "easy pickins" and often visit here with the intent to commit crimes and leave? The only disparate impact here is on criminals.
    I know that the penalties for crack vs. powdered cocaine had disparate impact. And those laws need to be looked at. I know that we continually fund Legal Aid and the Public Defenders to address the advantage that money brings to the sentencing process.

    But let apply this proposal to the most likely new crimes in the next 10 years. Most are involving electronic identity theft and cyber crimes. So we should give the guy a break who is pimpin teens on Back Page because he is Black? So if the guy who stole your identity is a minority he gets a slap on the wrist? This is another well intended dysfunctional rescue. Another thing that Wisconsin leads the nation in.
  20. MikeBauhs
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    MikeBauhs - January 18, 2014 8:02 am
    Where are the arrested people from and what where they doing when they were arrested. They are likely not random arrests.
  21. jcboo
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    jcboo - January 18, 2014 7:37 am
    Wow! If people won't quit breaking the law, let's just create a new law. Making their illegal activity harder to prosecute will surely be better for society. And just think what it will do for the feeling of self-worth!
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