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Mass and Disparate Incarceration in Wisconsin

Posted by Daniel Norland | Mar 03, 2017 | 0 Comments

I am going to try to create a blog post every Friday on an issue that is pertinent to Wisconsin as a whole, and of some legal significance. What better way to start than by addressing a problem that most Wisconsin residents either don't know exists, or if they know of its existence many times they do not know how pervasive of an issue it actually is.

Wisconsin incarcerates African-Americans and Native Americans at a greater disparity than any other State in the country. Not a statistic we want to be number one in. The theories behind how this happened, and the answers on how to fix it vary greatly and in all likelihood there is not just one answer. Mandatory minimum jail/prison sentences and tough penalties on non-violent drug offenders seem to be not only choking our justice system but also disproportionately impacting minority citizens.  Further complicating the problem is the fact that no politician or lawmaker wants to be seen as "soft" on crime, meaning these minimums are unlikely to go away. Instead, we see maximum and minimum penalties increase and incarceration levels increase as each new crop of politicians tries to be "tougher" on crime than their predecessor.

La Crosse County is more forward-thinking than most, in that we embrace the idea of "Evidence Based" sentencing practices. In other words, evidence shows that incarceration can create a career criminal out of a first time offender, and that incarceration for drug abuse issues is often counterproductive to society as a whole. Supervision and treatment statistically are superior to incarceration if the goal is preventing offenders from re-offending. The problem is, that goal also conflicts with the goal of punishment. Many Wisconsin residents believe punishment, not rehabilitation should be the primary focus of our criminal justice system.

The State Bar of Wisconsin today published an article touching on this issue. See the link below. I have no magic wand for how to fix it, but I think La Crosse's focus on Evidence Based sentencing practices is a good start, and other counties around the State are beginning to craft similar approaches to their criminal courts as well. I think, most importantly, in order to find answers we need to first have a discussion, and I hope posts like this will help. What do you think? Feel free to comment and share.

About the Author

Daniel Norland

I received my Bachelor's Degree from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse in December 2006. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison Law School in 2010 and chose to move back to the Coulee Region to begin my legal career. I decided to open my own law practice and have never regre...


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