The Nehemiah Center for Justice and Reconciliation on Monday kicked off its three-part workshop series designed to help educate the public on the criminal justice system in the United States and in Dane County.

At the first workshop, the organization focused on mass incarceration and race.

Nehemiah Center for Justice and Reconciliation Director Karen Reece said she started doing workshops about four years ago when she started looking into the criminal justice system.

She said when she began researching mass incarceration, there were not too many resources with information available. The purpose of the workshops are to educate and share awareness.

“This is a huge part of where our tax money goes to. We spend about $2 billion per biennium in the state on corrections,” Reece said.

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According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. has more than 20 percent of the world’s prison population, making it the world’s largest jailer.

Reece said over the past four decades the numbers of those incarcerated increased dramatically. She said there is a misconception that there are more violent offenses.

She said the crime rate for Wisconsin is about 16 percent lower than the national average.

During the workshop, participants discussed in small groups the impact of racial stereotypes. One of the main discussion points related to how to understand stereotypes without allowing them to become prejudiced attitudes.

Reece said the main goal of the workshops are to give participants things to think about and how to spread the new information gained at the meetings to others.

As part of the workshop series, there will be two more events coming up that will focus on prison programming in Wisconsin and life after prison.