Too many blacks in prison? Time to return to 40 acres and a mule

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Does Wisconsin lock up too many blacks?

When it's John McAdams asking that question, and the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute is paying for the study* , you can be pretty sure what the answer is going to be.

Of course not.

In fact, McAdams, who holds the endowed Wingnut Chair of Political Science at Marquette University, seems surprised we aren't locking up more blacks for longer sentences than we do now.

Paul Soglin has already done an analysis and found that under the model used by McAdams, we are not only not locking up enough blacks, but are well below expectations for homicides in Milwaukee, too. There is room for quite a few more murders.

It's hard to know where to begin with McAdam's "study," funded by WPRI, a far-right "think tank." Perhaps here:

McAdams dismisses a recent report by the Wisconsin Sentencing Commission as inconclusive, apparently because its findings would undermine his argument that blacks deserve to be locked up more than whites. That report found, according to the Journal Sentinel, that:

African-Americans and Hispanics convicted of drug trafficking in Wisconsin are more likely to wind up in prison than white drug dealers, according to a report on race and sentencing by the state Sentencing Commission.

Compared with whites, Hispanics are 2 1/2 times as likely to be imprisoned, while blacks are nearly twice as likely to end up behind bars for dealing drugs, according to the report issued last month.

Some key findings:

Racial disparity in sentences increased as the offense severity decreased.

--In less serious Class E drug offenses, 66% of Hispanics and 61% of blacks were imprisoned, compared with 30% of the whites sentenced. Blacks were twice as likely as whites to go to prison.

--Among non-drug offenses, Hispanic offenders were 1.7 times as likely as whites to receive a prison sentence, while blacks were 1.5 times as likely as whites to go to prison.

--Among all offenses examined, compared with whites, black offenders were 1.7 times as likely to receive a prison sentence, while Hispanic offenders were almost twice as likely to go to prison.

But rather than use that report, McAdams chose to do his own model, which factored in things like how many blacks lived in cities or in poverty. Using that as a projection, instead of actual data, is what led him to the conclusion that there's probably a shortfall in the number of blacks being imprisoned in Wisconsin.

And besides, he says, it's much worse for blacks than whites to use drugs:

It is, however, at least a bit simplistic to treat white drug use and black drug use as equivalent. Whatever the legality and morality of white drug use, it is far less likely to be a threat to the community than black drug use. A private vice is not the same thing as a public problem. Pot smoking suburban teenagers seldom if ever get in gun fights and shoot up innocent children. But that happens with some frequency in the inner city.

It would seem, based on his model and projection, that the way to reduce the imprisonment of blacks in Wisconsin would be to send them to rural areas and get them out of poverty.

Forty acres and a mule, perhaps?

Then we come to this gratutitous observation:

Incarceration is good

A pervasive bias in the literature on racial disparity is the notion that it is a bad thing to lock people up. The simple reality, however, is that incarceration has some extremely good social consequences.

The question being considered by the governor's commission is not whether incarceration is good, but whether there is racial disparity in the criminal justice system and how to eliminate it.

McAdams, of course, decided long ago that yes there's probably racial disparity but it's a good thing, and derided the governor's commission for even pursuing the question. During an exchange with him last month, he said he had the proof but couldn't share it until the WPRI publication came out. Now it's out, and he still hasn't any proof. We said this last month:

McAdams says a 10:1 black:white ratio is about right, when you factor in how many blacks are living in metropolitan areas, and the amount of poverty. How does that explain why Wisconsin is 5th in the disparity ratio out of 50 states? Do we have more black people living in poverty in cities than Michigan, where its disparity rate is just below the national average? And how does that explain that the rest of the state, according to [UW sociologist Pamela] Oliver, has higher black incarceration rates and higher disparity ratios than Milwaukee?

Finally, he ends his report with an anecdote from James Harris, the conservative black talker on WTMJ Radio,(who McAdams identifies only as a blogger) about how crime impacts on blacks. And then this punch line:

No analysis, no rhetoric and no policy should side, implicitly or explicitly, with the people who shoot little girls in the head.

Has someone suggested that "people who shoot little girls in the head," no matter what color the shooter may be, should not be incarcerated?

And McAdams and WPRI call this a "study?" It's right-wing blog fodder at best, even if it poses as an academic treatise.

When you already know your conclusion before you start the project, it's hardly a "study."

Enough said.

*POSTSCRIPT: McAdams himself refers to it as an article, but dresses it up as some sort of academic study or report.