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Racial disparity in prisons persists despite positive trends

While racial disparities in the criminal justice system have declined in the past 16 years, black men in Wisconsin and nationwide are still likelier to be imprisoned and receive longer sentences. These statistics come according to a study by the Council on Criminal Justice, a think tank that brings together concerned voices from both major political parties, law enforcement and criminal justice reform campaigns. The report notes that racial divisions in imprisonment for different types of crimes declined in local jails and state prisons as well as in the parole and probation systems.

Most significantly, racial disparities declined when drug offenses were considered. Drug cases have received a significant amount of scrutiny due to extensive sentencing disparity and racial bias in enforcement as well as the fact that many people serving significant prison sentences were convicted of nonviolent crimes or even simple possession. In 2000, black people were over 15 times more likely than white people to be imprisoned due to drug convictions. In 2016, that disparity had dropped to a five-fold likelihood, which still presents a significant gap that outstrips other types of criminal charges.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to racial injustice in criminal cases. In some cases, the overt or covert bias of judges, police, juries and prosecutors has been a factor; in other cases, sentencing laws targeted specific types of crimes, leading to severe racial gaps. While the report presented some positive findings, it also noted that black people were still more likely to receive longer prison sentences after conviction and more likely to be arrested.

People of any race who face criminal charges may seem to confront an unfair or biased system. A criminal defense attorney may help challenge police and prosecution allegations and work to prevent a conviction.

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