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Discussing race disparities in Wisconsin's criminal justice system

In recent months, we have discussed the often-ignored problem of racism within the criminal justice system. Events like those in Ferguson, Missouri have reminded us that many communities in the United States have a strained relationship with law enforcement agencies, and those communities are often predominantly low-income and African-American.

Wisconsin is not immune from allegations of racism. In fact, a 2013 UW-Milwaukee study found that Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate of black males in the nation. In Milwaukee County alone, more than 50 percent of African-American men in their 30s have been incarcerated in state prison.

Last month, this study was a focal point of a day-long seminar at Marquette University’s Varsity Theater. The participants included more than 300 individuals who work in law enforcement or criminal justice positions throughout the state. Attendees were “judges and commissioners, prosecutors, defense lawyers, probation officers, police and others,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The topic of the event was race – and specifically racial disparities – in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system. The details of what was discussed at the seminar were seemingly not reported. Nonetheless, the fact that such a meeting was held at all is a good sign in and of itself.

Even if racism is not consciously in the minds and hearts of those working in the criminal justice system, there may be systemic racism in the way that laws are written and enforced. Certainly, it is no secret that law enforcement agencies in some parts of Wisconsin tend to concentrate patrols in predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

We must hope that the conversation about race in the criminal justice system will be ongoing and evolving. The racial disparity problems will not be solved quickly, but with enough effort and examination, they can be solved.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Milwaukee courthouse virtually closed for racial disparity discussion,” Bruce Vielmetti, Oct. 17, 2014

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