We've heard a lot of talk about the staggering racial disparities in the state's criminal justice system in recent years. Wisconsin has routinely ranked at or near the top of states for the rate at which it locks up blacks compared with whites. And Dane County's progressive reputation has been tarnished by the rate at which it sends black offenders to prison - nearly half of black men between the ages of 25 and 29 residing in the county are either incarcerated or under court-ordered supervision. According to a study by Pam Oliver, a UW sociology professor, black men in Dane County are 21 times more likely to be incarcerated than white men. And according to a Justice Policy Institute report in 2007, black men in Dane County were 97 times more likely to be incarcerated for drug crimes, the second-highest rate in the nation.
A team from Dane County will take on the daunting task of tackling that problem, meeting for the first time on Monday. It will be their job to take recommendations released last fall by the Dane County Task Force on Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System and make them work.The task force has made more than 80 recommendations to reduce racial disparities, but has offered 10 priority recommendations including: finding additional funding for jail diversion programs; establishing a restorative justice program that would take some minor offenders out of the justice system and place them before a community-based panel; boosting mental health resources for offenders returning to the community; and removing obstacles for people getting out of jail to get a driver's license, often been cited as a hindrance to employment and housing.
Acknowledging tough budget times, the task force also made 10 recommendations that require no funding, including requiring racial impact statements before implementing policies or ordinances, taking steps to reduce job discrimination based on race and ex-offender status, increasing the number of minorities working in the criminal justice system, and supporting legislative proposals to reduce driver's license suspensions for failure to pay child support, drug violations and unpaid traffic citations.The commission's recommendations also led to a governor's mandate to the Department of Corrections to review policies and enact changes to help released inmates stay out of prison. The department has been working on policies to make it easier for inmates to get driver's licenses or identification cards while incarcerated, increase post-release job and treatment resources, and find alternatives to probation and parole revocations.
But so far the extent of disparity is unchanged. Blacks, who comprise about 6 percent of the state's population, make up about 45 percent of the state's prison population and about 44 percent of Dane County Jail population.
And despite efforts to address disparities, roughly half of adults and 53 percent of juveniles arrested by the Madison Police Department are black though they only make up 6.4 percent of the population.http://host.madison.com/ct/news/loca...cc4c03286.htmlFirst, of all, conscious or not, there is a racial bias on all levels of the criminal justice system. And a decades-long focus on drug crimes has hit the minority community hard.
"Historically in this community I think we saw the change in the 80s and 90s when we started focusing on certain neighborhoods and certain types of crimes," he says.
Then there's the achievement gap, one of the highest in the nation.
Madison is rife with good jobs - if you're working for the university, hospitals or government. Minorities, who make up a disproportionate number of poor families, have less access to education, and they are finding it hard to find unskilled jobs that provide a living wage.
These self-proclaimed 'progressives' want to put more criminals back on the streets.