Employment and Training Institute .

Incarceration Readings

Robert Smith, Milwaukee Magazine, "An 'Occupied' Milwaukee. Part I: To consider our city's challenges, we need to revisit the historical context out of which they arose."

"An 'Occupied' Milwaukee. Part II: How forces of 'occupation' have taken shape in southeastern Wisconsin and why this demands recognition."

    Smith's thought-provoking essays observe: "No matter where one locates in Milwaukee socially, economically or politically, each of us lives in a state of 'Occupation.' Each of us experiences the vestiges of the city's racial past and present -- either at home, at school, at work, in our politics, and perhaps most unfortunately, in our mundane experiences with socio-cultural isolation." Further, "Milwaukee rests at the center of the state's viciously polarized political climate. Battles over welfare reform, public education, and crime and drug control, make room for a wide ranging set of divisive discourses to emerge over the last 20 years that help fuel our current state of political 'Occupation.'"

Governor's Commission on Reducing Racial Disparities in the Wisconsin Justice System "Final Report", "Appendix" (2008), and resulting Executive Order 251 (since rescinded).

    Report includes 57 recommendations for addressing disparities in the state law enforcement, courts and corrections systems.

Devah Pager, "The Mark of a Criminal Record" [research conducted in Milwaukee] and Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration (University of Chicago, 2007). See also short summary published by UW Institute for Research on Poverty.

    Pager identified job openings listed by 350 employers in the Milwaukee area for entry-level positions with no experience or education requirements beyond high school (including wait staff, laborers, warehouse workers, production workers, sales assistants, etc.). Two teams of 23-year-old men applied for the jobs, alternating as to whether they listed an 18-month criminal record on their application, and with otherwise comparable education and experience qualifications listed. Although Wisconsin has legislation outlawing employment discrimination for incarceration history, the percentages of testers receiving callbacks for job interviews reflected differences both by race and whether they listed a prison sentence. 31% of whites without a listed prison record received callbacks for job interviews, while 17% of whites with a prison record listed on their application received callbacks. For African Americans, only 14% of the testers with no prison record listed received callbacks, and almost none (only 5%) of the young African American men with a prison record listed received callbacks.

Wisconsin State Public Defender, Civil Consequences of Conviction: The Impact of Criminal Records under Wisconsin Law" (November 2012)

    Wisconsin statutes for 65 professions indicate that a criminal charge or conviction may result in adverse employment consequences such as the loss of a necessary license or ability to enter the field. In nearly all cases convictions for drug offenses result in loss of eligibility for public housing (for the entire household) and loss of eligibility for student loans.

Alex Leichenger, "How one Milwaukee zip code explains America's mass incarceration problem," ThinkProgress, March 2014.

    "In a nation plagued by discriminatory mass incarceration, and a city named the most segregated metropolitan area in America, [53206] that 95-percent black zip code exemplifies the epidemic. Every neighborhood block has seen multiple men put in prison."
WISDOM, 11X15 Blueprint for Ending Mass Incarceration in Wisconsin, (2014).

    Proposals from a statewide coalition of faith groups to reduce the prison population by half and change abusive prison practices. "If implemented, these practices can save Wisconsin hundreds of millions of dollars each year, funds that can be spent to heal communities, provide prospects for those swept into mass incarceration for the past 25 years and offer opportunities for the next generation."

WISDOM 11x15 Project, Voices from Inside: Wisconsin Prisoners Speak Out (2013).

    Letters from Wisconsin inmates and reflections by judges and religious leaders

Gina Barton, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, identified 2,700 residents incarcerated in Wisconsin whose sentences allow for parole but who remain in custody.

    A special MJS investigation found dramatic decreases in offenders granted parole, dropping from 1,146 in 2005 to 152 in 2013. More than half of those eligible for parole but denied release had committed the crimes in their teens or 20s.

Mary Zahn and Gina Barton, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Locked In" Special Report on the $1.8 Billion Price of Truth in Sentencing."

    A four-part series in 2004 on Wisconsin's "truth-in-sentencing" laws warned [correctly] that "the prison system is on track to rival the state university system in annual tax dollars as the cost of longer prison terms and extended supervision in the community steamrolls through the years. A dozen years ago, Wisconsin taxpayers invested three times as much money in universities as in prisons."

Michael M. O'Hear, Marquette University Law School, "Wisconsin Imprisonment: Key Facts for Policymakers," September 2013.

    "Reducing imprisonment does not mean that offenders must necessarily escape supervision and accountability. Minnesota has a lower imprisonment rate than Wisconsin not because it lets offenders off the hook, but because it has made the choice to use less expensive forms of punishment, particularly probation."

Wisconsin State Journal, "Despite comparable use, police sanctions for smoking pot fall far more on blacks" (September 2014)

    18-month study of police drug arrests in Madison, Wisconsin found arrests and citations of African Americans for marijuana offenses at over 12 times the rate for whites. The newspaper analysis found that blacks comprised over half of people arrested or cited on marijuana charges but only 7% of the city population.

American Civil Liberties Union, The War on Marijuana in Black and White (June 2013).

    In 2010 African Americans in Wisconsin were 6 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. The ACLU reported that Wisconsin's marijuana arrest rate for African Americans was the fifth highest in the U.S. According to the report, 61% of all drug arrests were for marijuana possession.

Research by Pamela Oliver, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, "Adult Corrections Programs, Informational Paper 56" (January 2013)

Vera Institute of Justice, "The Cost of Prisons | Wisconsin: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers" (2012)

Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance "The Cost of Corrections: Wisconsin and Minnesota" (2010)

Human Impact Partners and Wisdom, "Healthier Lives, Stronger Families, Safer Communities" (November 2012)


Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2010). View Michelle Alexander's TEDx discussion on "The future of race in America" and 35 minute interview with Bill Moyers.

    "Merely reducing prison terms does not have a major impact on the majority of people in the system. It is the badge of inferiority – the felony record – that relegates people for their entire lives to second-class status. … forced to 'check the box' indicating a felony conviction on employment applications for nearly every job, and denied licenses for a wide range of professions, people whose only crime is drug addiction or possession of a small amount of drugs for recreational use find themselves locked out of the mainstream society and economy – permanently.”

National Research Council. The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences of High Rates of Incarceration, The National Academies Press (2014).

    Four guiding principles have been notably absent from recent policy debates on the proper use of prisons: (1) Proportionality: Criminal offenses should be sentenced in proportion to their seriousness. (2) Parsimony: The period of confinement should be sufficient but not greater than necessary to achieve the goals of sentencing policy. (3) Citizenship: The conditions and consequences of imprisonment should not be so severe or lasting as to violate one’s fundamental status as a member of society. (4) Social justice: Prisons should be instruments of justice, and as such their collective effect should be to promote society’s aspirations for a fair distribution of rights, resources, and opportunities.

    “When ex-inmates return to their communities, their lives often continue to be characterized by violence, joblessness, substance abuse, family breakdown, and neighborhood disadvantage. It can be challenging to draw strong causal conclusions from this research, but it’s clear that incarceration is now a facet of the complex combination of negative conditions that characterize high-poverty communities in U.S. cities. Prisons are part of a poverty trap, with many paths leading in, but few leading out.” -- Bruce Western

Marc Mauer and Ryan S. King, A 25 Year Quagmire: The War on Drugs and Its Impact on American Society and Sabrina Jones and Marc Mauer, Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling (2013). Hear WUWM's interview with Mauer on "Lake Effect."

    “The impact of greater emphasis on law enforcement and incarceration of drug offenders has had a dramatic impact on African American communities as a result of three overlapping policy decisions: the concentration of drug law enforcement in inner city areas; harsher sentencing policies, particularly for crack cocaine; and, the drug war’s emphasis on law enforcement at the expense of prevention and treatment. Given the shortage of treatment options in many inner city areas, drug abuse in these communities is more likely to receive attention as a criminal justice problem, rather than a social problem."

ETI Home Page | Publications | Site Map

Employment and Training Institute
School of Continuing Education
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee