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Monday, May 27
The Indiana Daily Student

Black Voices

Black Voices: Wisconsin leads the United States in imprisonment rates of Black people


A Sentencing Project report has discovered that Wisconsin imprisons Black residents at higher rates than any other state in the nation. 

Findings of the report said Black residents comprise 42% of Wisconsin’s prison population despite being just 6% of the state’s population.

Shaadie Ali, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, said one of the reasons Wisconsin has such a high imprisonment rate among Black residents is because of the racial disparities in several of Wisconsin's major cities.

"Milwaukee, for instance, it's one of the most racially segregated cities in the country," Ali said. “When you go past a certain street it goes from 90% white to 90% Black almost instantly."

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According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, about 69.4% of Wisconsin's Black population lives in Milwaukee.

Ali said the parole and community supervision system also contributes to the incarceration disparities.

"When people violate the terms of their parole, even if they haven't necessarily committed a crime, they are at risk of going back to jail,” Ali said.

In 2016, the Sentencing Project found that 1 in every 39 Black residents in Wisconsin was in prison at one time. Now, the number has increased to 1 in 36 Black residents. 

Ali said a reason the imprisonment rate among Black residents has increased is in Milwaukee over the past few years due to more usage of stop-and-frisk by police. Black people are more likely to be stopped nine-and-a-half times more than their white counterparts.

“If you search anybody at the rate that Black people in Milwaukee, especially Black people in white neighborhoods, are stopped and frisked and searched, something's gonna turn up,” Ali said. “If you're stopping somebody, you have to have a good reason to stop them. A vague sense of suspicion is insufficient.”

Ali said he recommends eliminating mandatory sentences for crimes, changing the rules of the parole and community supervision system, preventing residents from going back to jail if they have not committed a crime, decriminalizing low-level drug offenses, and mandating racial impact statements for all criminal statutes.

“Anytime somebody passes a new statute criminalizing some activity analysis has to go along with that demonstrating how it would impact minorities in the state of Wisconsin,” Ali said.

The Sentencing Project report also found Oklahoma, Idaho, and Montana, all of which have a substantially low Black population, have high imprisonment rates among Black residents compared to the rest of the country. In Indiana, 1 in 69 Black residents are  imprisoned, which is higher than the national average, which 1 in 81 Black adults serving time in prison.

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