Overcoming Racial Disparities

By RL McNeely, PhD, JD

Attorney McNeely recently retired from his professorship at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Helen Bader School of Social Welfare.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that it might be a good idea to phone and/or email several legislators identified below to indicate your support for the proposed minority impact legislation (http://www.wpr.org/bill-requires-racial-impact-statements-when-new-crimes-penalties-are-created) that has been drafted by Sen. Nikiya Harris and Rep. Sandy Pasch.  This proposed legislation would require that any new legislation creating criminal penalties, or any modifications of existing criminal legislation, must be subject to a racial impact investigation in order to make sure that anything new will not have a disparate impact on people of color.   Some legislators are arguing that this already exists.

But, despite efforts, this assertion has not been substantiated.  Instead, what exists is legislation that says new legislation MAY be studied.  The legislation proposed by Sen. Harris and Rep. Pasch says that such legislation SHALL be subject to a racial impact analysis.  Calls made and/or emails sent by Feb. 10th are likely to be most effective.  Please inform one or more of the legislators below that you support legislation proposed by Sen. Harris and Rep. Pasch that REQUIRES racial impact analyses. Such legislation undoubtedly will benefit minority communities by reducing disproportionate incarceration.

If you have any doubts about the need for racial impact studies, take a look at the statistics below this list of legislators, and then, please contact yours:

Senator Lena Taylor

Senator Alberta Darling

Senator Michael Ellis

Senator Glenn Grothman

Senator Neal Kedzie

Representative Bill Kramer

Senator Frank Lasee

Senator Mary Lazich

Representative Garey Bies

Representative Rob Hutton


1. African-Americans comprise 6% of the overall population of Wisconsin, but also represent 45% of the population in the adult DOC facilities. Hispanics represent 4% of the state’s overall population, but 8% of the correctional population. Caucasians constitute 86% of the population. Statistics of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections (DOC) reveal that 43% of the inmates in DOC adult facilities are Caucasian.
Commission on Reducing Disparities in the Wisconsin Justice System. February, 2008. P.2.

2. Wisconsin now has highest percentage of Black male incarceration in the nation. In April of 2010 when the U.S. Census Bureau conducted its decennial count of Wisconsin residents, it found 12.8% (or 1 in 8) of African American working age men behind bars in state prisons and local jails. This rate of mass incarceration is the highest for African American men in the country and nearly double the national average of 6.7% (or 1 in 15). Wisconsin also leads the nation in incarceration of Native American men, with 7.6% of working age men (or 1 in 13) in state prisons and local jails in 2010, compared to 3.1% (or 1 in 32) nationally. By contrast, Wisconsin’s rate of incarceration of white men is similar to the national average.

Milwaukee County. State DOC records show incarceration rates at epidemic levels for African American males in Milwaukee County. Over half of African American men in their 30s and half of men in their early 40s have been incarcerated in state correctional facilities.

John Pawasarat and Lois M. Quinn, Wisconsin’s Mass Incarceration of African American Males: Workforce Challenges for 2013, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Employment and Training Instituted, 2013.

These astonishing levels for Wisconsin and Milwaukee County stand in sharp contrast to a declining national rate of incarceration for African Americans. From 2000 – 2009 the rate of incarceration in state and federal prisons declined 9.8% for black men and 30.7% for black women.

Marc Mauer, A New Day for Sentencing Reform? Sentencing Times, Washington D.C: The Sentencing Project, Fall, 2013

3. 32 Studies Show Racism. One scholar recently reviewed 32 state-level studies of the decision to incarcerate and length of sentence imposed, and concluded that there is ample evidence among these studies that, controlling for other relevant factors, African Americans and Latinos are more likely to be incarcerated than whites and, in some jurisdictions, receive longer sentences.
Spohn, C. (2001). Thirty Years of Sentencing Reform: The Quest for a Racially Neutral Sentencing Process. In W. Reed & L. Winterfield (Eds.), Criminal Justice 2000 (Vol. 3, pp. 566). Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice.

4. African Americans are particularly overrepresented in drug arrests (King). Evidence of racially disparate treatment of drug arrestees is apparent by viewing the rate of reported drug use among African Americans. According to self-report data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, African Americans constituted 14% of drug users in 2006, only slightly higher than their percentage in the general population (Substance Abuse). Yet African Americans represented 35% of those arrested in 2006 for drug offenses (FBI), 53% of drug convictions (Sabol), and 45% of drug offenders in prison in 2004 (the most recent year for which prison data are available).(Sabol)

R. King (2008). Disparity by Geography: The War on Drug in America’s Cities. Washington, D.C.: The Sentencing Project.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2007). Results from the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings. Rockville: Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-32, DHHS Publication No. SMA 07–4293.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (2007). Crime in the United States, 2006. Washington, D.C.

W.J. Sabol, Couture, H., and Harrison, P. (2007). Prisoners in 2006. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics.

All from Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System.

5. The widely-discussed phenomenon of “driving while black” illustrates the potential abuse of discretion by law enforcement. A two-year study of 13,566 officer-initiated traffic stops in a Midwestern city revealed that minority drivers were stopped at a higher rate than whites and were also searched for contraband at a higher rate than their white counterparts. Yet, officers were no more likely to find contraband on minority motorists than white motorists.
Leinfelt, F. H. (2006). Racial Influences on the Likelihood of Police Searches and Search Hits: A Longitudinal Analysis from an American Midwestern City. Police Journal, 79(3): 238–257.

6. A New York state study found that minorities charged with felonies were more likely to be detained than whites. The researchers concluded that 10 percent of minorities detained in New York City and 33 percent in other parts of the state would have been released prior to arraignment if minorities were detained at the rate of comparably situated whites.
Office of Justice Systems Analysis (1995). Disparities in Processing Felony Arrests in New York State: 1990–1992 Office of Justice Systems Analysis, New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.

7. In 2011, Wisconsin had 9,980 fathers and 670 mothers incarcerated for a total of 10,650 parents.
“Parents in State Prison,” The Sentencing Project, February, 2013

By calculating the percentage of prisoners who are African American (45%), we can estimate that at least 4,792 incarcerated parents are African American. (There are probably more because it may be that incarcerated African Americans are more likely to have children than incarcerated Caucasians). Many of the African Americans are likely from Milwaukee, with the consequences of incarceration weighing heavily of Milwaukee’s African American neighborhoods and families.

8. Families with an incarcerated member or members have fewer adults available to work or to assist in child care and supervision, resulting in higher rates of stress, family disruption, and residential mobility.
Commission on Reducing Disparities in the Wisconsin Justice System. February, 2008. P.4.

9. The exponential increase in the use of incarceration has…(contributed) to family disruption and the weakening of informal social controls in many African American communities…If current trends continue, one in three Black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime.
Marc Mauer and Ryan S. King, Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration by Race and Ethnicity (monograph), The Sentencing Project: Research and Advocacy for Reform, Wash. D.C., July, 2007: 23 pp.; P. 3.

10. Fatherless boys are more likely than others to engage in violence and father absence is more significant than poverty in predicting criminal involvement. Black family disruption has the strongest effect on Black juvenile criminality and substantially increases the rates of Black murder and robbery.
Robert J. Sampson, “Urban Black Violence: The Effect of Male Joblessness and Family Disruption,” American Journal of Sociology, V. 93, No. 3 (September, 1987): 348–382; W. Mackey, and B. Mackey, “The Presence of Fathers in Attenuating Young Male Violence: Dad as a Social Palliative,” Marriage and Family Review, V. 35, 2003: 63–75; Jennifer Morse, “Parents or Prisons,” Policy Review, V. 120, 2003: 49–60.

11. “Adult male scarcity,” a low ratio of adult men to adult women, explains 36% of the variance in youth assault rates. Adult male scarcity is the most powerful predictor (better than poverty, education, single-parent homes). Male scarcity plus the percentage of people in an area without high school diplomas explained 69% of the difference in youth assault rates.
Daniel J. Kruger, Sophie M. Aiyer, Cleopatra H. Caldwell and Marc A. Zimmerman, “Local Scarcity of Adult Men Predicts Youth Assault Rates,” Journal of Community Psychology, V. 42 (1) 2014: 119–125.

12. While African American youth represent 17% of their age group within the general U.S. population, they represent:

  • 46% of juvenile arrests
  • 31% of referrals to juvenile court
  • 41% of waivers to adult court.

H. Snyder, (2006). Juvenile Arrests 2004. OJJDP Bulletin: Washington, D.C.: National Disproportionate Minority Contact Databook.

13. Disparity in imprisonment contributes to disparities in education, employment, income, housing, health care, and other areas. (For example, individuals convicted of felonies are ineligible for federal student aid and, in some states, like Florida, they are ineligible for public housing.)
Commission on Reducing Disparities in the Wisconsin Justice System. February, 2008. P.1.

Outcomes Sought:

1. Specialty Treatment Courts. Perceived disparities in the availability of specialty treatment courts to minority-group members was another area examined in the effort to address the question of discrimination. Numerous comments were made regarding Drug Treatment Courts and the opportunities they provide defendants in non-violent offenses to avoid repercussions that attach to convictions being made available to Caucasians more frequently than to minority-group members despite the numbers of defendants eligible for the referrals. The lack of a Drug Treatment Court in Milwaukee County was an oft-cited concern.
Commission on Reducing Disparities in the Wisconsin Justice System. February, 2008. P.3.

2. Data Collection. Throughout the state, we must increase and improve the validity and reliability of data, e.g. collecting and making data available. Local jurisdictions must develop a tracking system to identify race and age at all stages of contact with the justice system.
Commission on Reducing Disparities in the Wisconsin Justice System. February, 2008. P.5.

3. Revocation Data by Race. In order to track what is happening with the various racial groups within the criminal justice system, data must be collected consistently by race that include not only incarceration rates by race, but race categorized revocation data by nature of the revocation, length of the revocation, availability of alternatives to revocation, and racial background of the agent.

4. Racial Disparity Data by Race. For a tool to track racial disparity, see: Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System: A Manual for Practitioners and Policy Makers, The Sentencing Project, 2008, P. 22.

5. Implementation of Cultural Competency as Core Component in Operations and Training. Adopt culturally-specific orientation training for police personnel working in areas with substantial numbers of minority group members. The training should introduce the police to the residents, organizations, and cultural characteristics of the neighborhoods, to enhance their understanding of the community culture.
Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System: A Manual for Practitioners and Policy Makers, The Sentencing Project, 2008, P. 26.

“It’s apparent that any benefit to society of filling the nation’s prisons with hundreds of thousands of low-level nonviolent drug offenders is far outweighed by the damage to individual lives, families and communities.” In other words, we need to stop imprisoning so many for so little.
Marc Mauer, A New Day for Sentencing Reform? Sentencing Times, Washington D.C: The Sentencing Project, Fall, 2013

“Talking Points” was drafted by the:
Felmers O. Chaney Correctional Center Community Advisory Board

Some Solutions: Nineteen Ideas

R.L. McNeely

9/16/14 NAACP &Chaney Correctional Center Advisory Board Press Conference

Source: Marc V. Levine, Race and Male Employment in the Wake of the Great Recession: Black Male Employment Rates in Milwaukee and the Nation’s Largest Metro Areas, 2010 (Monograph) 2012

1. Regional economic development organizations (Chambers of Commerce, etc.) need to work together to coordinate education with workforce development.

2. Public Job Creation [transitional (temporary subsidized) jobs: parks, street repairs, bridge repairs, neighborhood cleanup] [Medium- and Longer-term Employment: Infrastructure investments such as bridges, roads, transit: Growth Sector Jobs such as green jobs like the Milwaukee Energy Efficiency Program which is a building retrofitting program with great potential and should be expanded].

3. Enhanced training and job placement should be targeted to growth sectors of the regional economy, such as health care or medical instruments.

4. Stop locking up so many males for so little (like minor drug possession/minor drug distribution offenses) that remove them from neighborhoods where they could be stabilizing influences for young males.

5. Build solid linkages between Wisconsin’s Department of Corrections (DOC) and Wisconsin’s technical colleges for ex-offender training during incarceration or upon release (Lois Quinn, 7/25/14 Bader Foundation panel presentation).

6. Strategies are needed to better integrate inner-city businesses with the regional economy. “Buy Milwaukee” programs involving large universities and corporations could help.

Source: Tim Sullivan, The Road Ahead: Restoring Wisconsin’s Workforce Development, A Report Prepared for Governor Scott Walker (Monograph) 2012: 125 pp.

7. Milwaukee is the second largest host of manufacturing jobs of the country’s 50 largest metropolitan areas but students enrolled in local K-12 indicate they are not interested in manufacturing jobs, many of which are increasingly requiring more than a H.S. diploma. Too, employers are confronted with great difficulty in attracting workers to the state to fill manufacturing jobs (especially those not located near urban areas). Consequently, employers struggle to fill current and projected job openings in this vital industry (20% of Wisconsin’s gross national product comes from manufacturing). Additionally, Wisconsin is projected to have 925,000 available job positions due to retirement and growth in the decade, 2008 – 2018. About 70 percent of these will require less than a college degree.

Hence, DOC, in particular, should be spawning programs in alignment with the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) and the state’s technical colleges and four-year-schools in conjunction with employers so that ex-offenders can be trained to fill current and projected job openings. Without additional job training programs beyond those the state currently administers ($410 million in 2012), the state will fall further behind in workforce development. Transportation (and, possibly, housing) will need to be provided to job locations, some of which might be quite distant from central city Milwaukee.

8. UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee have great potential to turn research into start-up companies but both lag behind similar universities in turning research monies into new jobs.

But, in Milwaukee, MATC, too, can be an engine for start-up companies and new jobs. Consequently, MATC and U-W Milwaukee, in conjunction with economic development entities like the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families [which administers more training funding than DWD (Sullivan, p. 9)] and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) could assist in efforts to develop entrepreneurial pilot training programs for the unemployed or underemployed indigent and for ex-offender populations, such as the training programs shown to be effective with these populations, elsewhere.

9. Wisconsin should open education opportunities for students who want to attend two-year postsecondary institutions or certificate programs less than half time. Currently, students are only granted financial aid if they are enrolled for more than part-time. Proper education is the foundation of economic development.

10. Utilization of apprenticeships should be encouraged. The U.S. skills gap widened during the 1980s partly because alternative forms of education, like apprenticeships, were de-emphasized and de-funded during the 1980s.

11. A key way to fill gaps in our workforce is through international migration. Wisconsin should set up a panel to find ways of encouraging, welcoming and integrating legal immigrants into Wisconsin. Immigrants have a positive financial impact because they bring in more tax revenue than they take out in other state expenses even if they have low educational attainment. Their tax revenue impact is especially positive if they have high educational attainment. International immigration actually increases employment and education among natives because Wisconsin isn’t attracting the workforce necessary to keep pace with traditional and innovative workforce needs. Helping immigrants integrate will improve the economic health of the state because their presence will help to keep companies with workforce needs located within the state. For every 100 immigrants with an advanced degree, 44 additional native-born Americans are hired.

Source: John Pawasarat and Lois Quinn, Wisconsin’s Mass Incarceration of African American Males: Workforce Challenges for 2013 (Monograph) University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute, 2013: 32 pp.

12. Only 10 percent of African American men with DOC incarceration records have a current valid Wisconsin driver’s license despite needing licenses to get to job sites without the possibility of job-ending arrests for illegal driving. About 24,000 do not have valid licenses. DOC should work with workforce development boards (e.g., Windows to Work) to clear up license suspensions and revocations in order for ex-offenders to obtain driver’s licenses.

13. Another 28,000 non-incarcerated African American men have suspended or revoked licenses. Funding free driver’s education in school districts where more than half of the students are poor or near-poor would increase the labor force participation rates of low income youth thereby helping to fill workforce development gaps. This should be an immediate priority of local/state government.

14. Over half of black men in their thirties and half in their early forties have been or are incarcerated in adult DOC facilities, thereby creating publically accessible C-CAP records, greatly diminishing their job prospects. Successful re-entry into the job market is critical for public safety and community economic well-being. Thus, divert non-violent offenders into mandatory treatment community supervision facilities rather than incarceration (while offering more deferred prosecutions).

15. Milwaukee’s DOC facilities should work with the Center for Driver’s License Recovery and Employability which has shown a 58 percent success rate in recovering the licenses of formerly incarcerated persons. Programs also encouraging the previously cited non-incarcerated 28,000 men to work with an additionally funded Center for Driver’s License Recovery and Employability would be desirable.

Source: Poverty in Wisconsin Can Be Dramatically Reduced, David Riemer and Conor Williams (Principal Investigators) Community Advocates Public Policy Institute, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2012; 8 pp.

16: Expand successful transitional jobs programs. The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, for example, administers the largest transitional jobs program in the state. Transitional jobs are short-term, subsidized jobs aimed at getting unemployed workers into the unsubsidized workforce. Between 2010 and 2012, more than 3600 individuals participated in the program and, as of 2012, more than 1200 participants were able to secure unsubsidized employment.

Source: States Report Reduction in Recidivism, Justice Center, The Council on State Governments, September, 2012: 8 pp.

17. Four factors are critical to any effort to reduce recidivism:

1. Resources must be focused on individuals assessed as most likely to re-offend;
2. Investments must be made in research-driven evidence based programs;
3. Effective community supervision policies and practices must be implemented;
4. “Place-based” approaches must be applied.

Michigan, for example, launched a program that (a) targets individuals at greatest risk for failure on parole (b) uses standardized risk and needs assessment to inform the services provided to inmates to reduce their risk of re-offending, © allocates $50 million dollars annually to provide community-based housing for parolees, to subsidize employers who hire them, and to maintain funding for community-based transition support services. Participants in the program have been found to be 48% less likely to return to prison.

Source: Lindsey Draper (Staff Director), Commission on Reducing Racial Disparities in the Wisconsin Justice System Final Report, Madison, WI: Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance (February) 2008: 88 pp..

18. Active efforts should be made to change prohibitions against financial aid for education and housing for convicted non-violent drug offenders.

Source: R.L. McNeely, David Pate and Lisa Ann Johnson, Milwaukee Today: An Occasional Report of the Milwaukee NAACP, Milwaukee Branch (Monograph) 2011: 40 pp

19. As students from Montessori schools vastly outperform voucher school students and traditional public school students, significantly increase Milwaukee’s Montessori schools.

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster. Based on work by patricia obletz.  Page last modified on June 01, 2018

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