Streit Makes Closing Remarks at YWCA 2008 Racial Justice Summit

Posted: 2008.10.15

At the October 16-17, 2008 Summit organized by Dane County's YWCA that discussed responses that could reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system in Wisconsin, Ken Streit provided the closing remarks.  The remarks were based on data from the Wisconsin Sentencing Commission, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections and the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics.  Streit acknowledged the many issues regarding drug offenses where questions could be raised enforcement strategies because there was rarely a "victim" in the traditional sense other than police surveillance. 

But he noted that, while drug sentences make up a high volume of admissions to Wisconsin prisons, their duration is comparatively shorter than the admissions for lower volume offenses such as homicide, robberies and assault.  Those offenses tend to be highly concentrated in just a few Zip Code areas in Wisconsin and the racial disparities in sentencing are far lower or non-existent for these serious non-drug offenses. 

The Wisconsin Sentencing Commission's look at racial disparity sampled five general crime categories and the sentencing that took place a few years ago.  Streit observed that one of the greatest racial differences was that Blacks had nearly twice the rate of having served prior prison sentences at the time of sentencing.  Noting the predictive effect of the prior prison term on whether the judge selects prison versus probation at the current sentence, Streit suggested several ways that community corrections could be radically changed to improve outcomes in Milwaukee and other counties.

Finally, Streit noted that, of the 21 Midwest and Northeast states, Wisconsin was third in the combined rate of prison and jail incarceration.  Since this includes states which much larger cities than Milwaukee - and accompanying higher rates of serious crimes in those cities - Streit questioned how Wisconsin had come to such a high rate of incarceration.

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