Years of housing segregation and redlining have contributed to Wisconsin imprisoning its Black residents at a rate higher than any other state in the country, criminal justice experts say, reports NBC News One in every 36 Black people are currently in prison in the state, according to a report from the Sentencing Project, a group that advocates for reduced incarceration. Black people represent 42 percent of the state’s total prison population despite accounting for only 6 percent of the total population.
The report, which uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, also found that Black Wisconsinites are also nearly 12 times as likely as their White counterparts to be imprisoned, well above the national average and behind only New Jersey in the rate of racial disparity between Black people and White people.
The report’s findings emphasize some long-standing problems in the state, said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin.
“For many years, Milwaukee has been one of the top segregated areas in the country by most measures,” he said. “It has a long history that persists today because of deeply entrenched residential housing segregation. I think that plays a significant role in how this ends up playing out into these huge disparities by race in the criminal justice system.”
About 65 percent of Black Wisconsinites live in segregated Milwaukee County, which contributes to the imprisonment rate, experts said.
“Police can occupy Black and Brown neighborhoods, putting them under heavy surveillance and they’re more likely to be stopped and arrested,” Dupuis said.
Further, prosecution rates are higher and plea deals are lower for Black residents, said Ion Meyn, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Officers in Wisconsin are less likely to arrest Whites, and prosecutors decline charges against Whites more often, he added.