I am the Green Party candidate for Dane County District Attorney. I am running for district attorney to create a more just Dane County. I believe something needs to be done about our criminal prosecution system. This article addresses one of the major problems of the criminal prosecution system, the so-called “War on Drugs” and its civil rights implications.
When current District Attorney Brian Blanchard took office in 2000, the Dane County jail population was 35 percent black, 65 percent white, and the rate of new prison admissions from Dane County was about 40 times higher for African Americans than for non-Hispanic whites. At the end of 2003, the Dane County jail population was still 35 percent black and 65 percent white, and Dane County still incarcerates excessive numbers of blacks compared to whites.
The United States has the highest rate of individuals imprisoned of any nation in the world, and African Americans are incarcerated at seven times the rate of whites. The guiltiest state is Wisconsin, which, in 2001, led the nation in disparity between the black and white incarceration rates. Dane County is one of the worst offenders in Wisconsin. While Dane County’s population is only 4 percent African American, more than 50 percent of the people sent to prison from Dane County are African Americans.
The single largest cause of this disparity is the “War on Drugs.” Though the rate of drug use among blacks and white adults is the same, and even higher for white juveniles than black, African Americans are arrested far more often than whites for drug offenses. “The drug war is aimed towards blacks,” observed Jodine Deppisch, Warden of Taycheedah Correctional Institute.
The drug war is a miserable failure and has created one of the major civil rights issues of our time: the wholesale disenfranchisement of generations of African American men, 40 percent of whom are at some stage within the Unites States’ criminal prosecution system. Much like alcohol prohibition during the 1920s, drug laws only serve to drive drugs underground into a thriving non-taxed, unregulated black market that is violent and unsafe.
Drug abuse, like alcohol abuse, is a public health issue, not a criminal issue. Drug prohibition has done nothing to stop access to illicit drugs. Ending prohibition will allow us to deal with the real problems of drug and alcohol addiction. The solution to the problem of drug addiction and abuse is not incarceration, but treatment, support and rehabilitation, which is, among other things, seven times more cost effective than incarceration.
About 80 percent of drug arrests in Dane County are for possession, and 75 percent of those are for marijuana possession. If elected District Attorney, I will immediately implement the following policy: I will not prosecute nor continue to prosecute drug possession and drug paraphernalia possession cases. I believe a moratorium on prosecuting possession cases will provide an opportunity to review our response to the systemic problems created by this unwinnable “War on Drugs.”
It costs the state of Wisconsin $31,000 a year to keep one inmate in a maximum security prison and $54,000 a year for a “supermax” inmate. The cost to send an in-state student to the University of Wisconsin-Madison is $15,250 a year. Instead of sending young people of color to college, we send them to prison. Our priorities must change. If we don’t acknowledge that as a great failure of our system, we won’t be able to create a just society. I want to create a just society, that’s why I’m running for Dane County District Attorney as a Green Party candidate.
You too can begin that change Nov. 2 by casting your ballot for the local Green Party candidates in Dane County. Besides myself, Brian Pruka is running for Dane County Clerk, and Tony Schultz is running for Wisconsin State Senate for the 26th District.
Remember when you step into the voting booth that you will have many choices. Besides the highly contested presidential campaign, there are many local races that could go largely unnoticed. In Dane County, you have a real choice in three important races. As Four Lakes Green candidates, we are running against status-quo establishment Democrats who would otherwise go unopposed.
I am running for the office of Dane County District Attorney to return it to the independent progressive tradition of Dane County’s greatest District Attorney, Robert M. “Fighting Bob” LaFollette. I have been a dedicated activist for social and political change for more than four decades, working for women’s equality, racial justice and worker’s rights. As Dane County’s District Attorney, I would continue my work for progressive social change.
Sally Stix is a candidate for District Attorney.