Report: Wisconsin’s Black incarceration rate in state prison highest in nation by far

The Black imprisonment rate is 10X higher than the white one
Oshkosh Correctional Institution in Oshkosh, WIsconsin
Oshkosh Correctional Institution in Oshkosh, WIsconsin(WBAY)
Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 11:07 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A higher percentage of Wisconsin’s Black population is currently serving time in the state’s correctional system than any other state, a new survey comparing all 50 states finds. It showed that one out every 36 Black residents is currently incarcerated in a state prison.

Wisconsin’s incarceration rate is approximately 15 percent higher than the two next closest states, Oklahoma and Idaho, where one in 42 of their Black residents were locked up.

At the other end of the spectrum, the state with the second-lowest rate, New Hampshire, the rate was more than three times lower (1 in 135), while Massachusetts had the lowest rate with fewer than one in 200 Black residents incarcerated. The Bay State also had the lowest imprisonment rate in the country for its white population, the survey reported.

Imprisonment Rate by Race and Ethnicity
Wisconsin2742 (per 100k)230 (per 100k)475 (per 100k)

Wisconsin is also the only state where the incarceration rate for its Black population per capita more than doubles the national average, according to the survey, which was conducted by The Sentencing Project. Its report on racial and ethnic inequalities found for every 100,000 Black resident in Wisconsin, more than 2,700 are imprisoned at a state facility, versus 1,240 nationwide.

On the other hand, the imprisonment rate among the white individuals in Wisconsin is more than 10 percent lower than the national average, the report indicates. Those numbers put Wisconsin’s incarceration rate for its Black residents more than 10 times higher than the white imprisonment rate.

Wisconsin is one of only two states to see such a large gap. The other, New Jersey, actually had a larger difference between its Black and white residents; however, its incarcerations rates are much lower (1,009 vs. 81 per 100,000, respectively).

States with highest black/white differential
StateBlack Imprisonment RateWhite Imprisonment RateB/W
New Jersey10098112.5

The survey also broke out the incarceration rates for the Latinx communities when available, also finding that its population is imprisoned at a greater rate than the white community. At 349 residents per 100,000 people it is still less than a third of the rate for Black individuals. The report noted that those incarceration rates tend to be less reliable with some Latinx people being counted as white. Additionally, five states not reporting ethnicity figures to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2019, on which the entire report is based.

In concluding the report, the authors contended that not enough attention is being paid to the racial disparities in imprisonment in the United States, noting that even in the state with the smallest gap, Hawaii, the rate of Black incarceration is more than twice as high for white individuals.

“If we continue to ignore or tolerate these disparities, the United States is unlikely to achieve the serious, sustainable reforms that are needed to end mass incarceration,” they argued, describing the current pace of change as too modest in its goals. Among the recommendations the offer to end the disparities include reforming war on drug sentencing guidelines, which the authors argue impose long sentences for drug offenses in cases where they say alternatives would be more appropriate. They also target mandatory minimum sentences and truth-in-sentencing rules and take a more individualized approach. Finally, they ask that more states enact legislation that would require them to consider the racial effects of changes to the criminal code before enacting changes.

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