What we know thus far
The racial disparities in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system are among the worst in the country. Of the 23,700 inmates confined in Wisconsin Department of Corrections facilities in December 2019, 42% were black1 — six times higher than black representation in the state’s population as a whole.
Many studies have been conducted in an effort to determine whether this disparity is the result of the criminal justice system and its various components — police, prosecutors, the courts or the Department of Corrections — or a reflection of gaping racial disparities that also exist in many areas outside the criminal justice system in our state.
This policy brief is a synopsis of some of the most salient existing research in each of those areas combined with links to some of the Badger Institute’s previous work as well as some initial recommendations. This is not meant to be a comprehensive or definitive document. The extent to which racism and/or other factors contribute to existing disparities is one of the most complex and controversial ar- eas of study in America, and we intend to be among those delving deeper into these all-important issues.
But this brief does provide a broad and impartial look at what we know thus far — and a roadmap of sorts that lays out why our ongoing focus will include corrections reform, collective bargaining and police discipline, and perhaps legal representation rather than the judiciary or prosecutors.