Wisconsin Has Highest Black Male Incarceration Rate in the Nation

Drug-related charges are the leading offense.

Posted: 04/22/2013 10:45 AM EDT
Wisconsin has highest black male incarceration rate in the nation

Wisconsin has the highest Black male incarceration rate in the nation according to a new study released on Friday by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The state’s 12.8 percent incarceration rate is almost double the national rate, which is at 6.7 percent. Oklahoma follows Milwaukee at 9.7 percent and also surpasses the national rate.

Most of the offenses are drug-related charges, according to the UWM Employment and Training Institute study.

In the city of Milwaukee, incarceration seems to be an unfortunate fact of life for Black men. More than half of Black men in their 30s and half of Black men in their 40s have been incarcerated in the city. Two-thirds of these incarcerations were concentrated in the city’s six poorest zip codes.  

“The prison population in Wisconsin has more than tripled since 1990, fueled by increased government funding for drug enforcement (rather than treatment) and prison construction, three-strike rules, mandatory minimum sentence laws, truth-in sentencing replacing judicial discretion in setting punishments, concentrated policing in minority communities and state incarceration for minor probation and supervision,” the study said.

The Badger Herald reports:

Because the vast majority of incarcerated black males are of working age, the study said they struggle finding jobs, especially given the recent recession. The study criticized past reports on the state’s skills gap for “largely ignor[ing]” that population.

Mark Mauer, a spokesperson for the Sentencing Project, said the findings could partly be due to involvement in crime, but also because of the effect of law enforcement policies.

“It is certainly a disturbing indication that there is a problem somewhere that the state incarceration rate is so much higher than the rest of the country,” Mauer said.

The study also found 40 percent of incarcerated black males have offenses related to drugs. Out of all Milwaukee County resident imprisonments related to drugs since 1990, 82 percent of offenders have been black males, according to the study.

While the study also found white male driving while intoxicated offenses are higher than among black males, the opposite held true for drug offenses.

Mauer said the study’s findings are part of a nationwide trend of racial disparities in drug incarcerations.

“I think the state should be reviewing its drug sentencing policies,” Mauer said. “The state should be reviewing the degree at which it is able to offer treatment and alternatives rather than incarceration.”

Read the full story here.

The high Black male incarceration rate in Milwaukee has been tied to the decline in Black two-parent homes in the city. Past reports say that from 1970 to 2000, the number of Black two-parent homes dropped from 64.2 percent to 28.2 percent. 

Racial disparities in the American prison system continue to be an issue. While Whites are 78.1 percent of the U.S. population and make up 34 percent of state and federal prisons, Blacks are 13.1 percent of the U.S. population and are 38 percent of the prison population.


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(Photo: Edwin Remsberg / Getty Images)

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