A new report revealed Dane County has the widest gap in the nation between the number of incarcerated black and white residents for drug convictions.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the Center for Effective Public Policy released a report showing 40 percent of the county’s overall jail population is black, although only only 6 percent of Dane County residents are black.
The report said black residents in Dane County are 97 times more likely to receive incarceration for drug convictions than white residents. This figure is the widest gap in the U.S., according to the State Journal.
When it comes to getting admitted into deferred prosecution programs to avoid jail time, white residents facing charges are more likely to get accepted than black residents, the report said.
Michael Scott, an associate law professor at the University of Wisconsin, said Dane County is not a large urban community, which would typically have a wide variety of different ethnic groups. The county has historically been almost all white, and many of the minorities that have moved in have not achieved middle class status yet, he said.
The combination of a non-stable minority community in Dane County, as well the increased likelihood of lower class individuals to commit crimes, has contributed to the disparity issue, Scott said.
Scott said if Dane County had a larger presence of middle class minority communities, he believes the disturbing disparity statistics would be significantly reduced.
“It would help with the presence of more positive role models to minority children, which could really be helpful,” Scott said.
Scott said although these changes could make a significant positive difference, it all comes down to Dane County’s ability to “create a climate that is attractive to middle class and upper middle class minority communities.”
Scott outlined several solutions the Dane County community could use to change the statistics found in the report.
He said providing alternatives to incarceration, such as diversion programs, could be more successful in reforming an individual. Convicts would still be reflected as being in the system for committing a criminal offense, but not necessarily as doing jail time as a consequence, he said.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said he believes diversion programs could make a significant difference if the community had a better understanding of them, particularly understanding the difference between accepting a fine and participating in the program.
“Accepting a fine, even though it can be paid of in a week, will result in the crime staying on your record for the rest of your life,” Ozanne said. “On the other hand, you could enter a diversion program where you take the time, however long it may be, to address your needs in a way that will not bring you back into the system again, and keep you from a conviction.”
Ozanne said programs that erase convictions, like diversion programs, would give people a second chance, allowing them to apply for colleges and loans “without that hurdle in their way.” He added this would set people in the right direction for the future.
Ozanne added an open-minded community is also key to solving the issue.
“One thing we do have with our diversion programs is an issue of whether or not the community as a whole is accepting of them.” Ozanne said, “A program, even if it could effect racial disparities, will not if a group in the community doesn’t support it.”