Report finds major racial inequities in Dane County jails

Maggie Degnan

Disproportionate imprisonment: Length of stay, and its impact on minority communities and their incarceration rates

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Photo of handcuffs and fingerprints.(Bill Oxford/Unsplash)

By Maggie Degnan

DANE COUNTY, WI. --- Dane County incarcerates its Black residents at more than twice the national rate, a recent Justice For All Institute report found.

The report, released in April this year, analyzes the level of disparity in local jail incarceration rates in Dane County. The statistics come from six cities of Dane County: Fitchburg, Madison, Middleton, Monona, Sun Prairie and Verona

Major findings include that the Dane County Black arrest rate is eleven times higher than its white arrest rate and twice as high as the U.S. Black arrest rate, Black people in Dane County who are arrested have a slightly longer length of stay (notably for violent charges) and that the jail incarceration rate is about 16 times higher for Black people than it is for white people in Dane County. For context, length of stay or LOS is defined by Law Insider as the number of consecutive days a confined inmate spends in jail, from the date of booking to the date of release.

The JFA report acknowledged that these elongated stays for violent charges are partially what contribute to Black people’s higher incarceration.

The findings emphasize the significance of LOS data, highlighting disparities in Dane County. One example of this is that despite similar arrest rates between Hispanic people and whites, Hispanics in Dane County have a higher incarceration rate. The analysis links this directly to Hispanics having longer LOS rates.

James Austin and Roger Ocker, the authors of the analysis, also found that although Black and white people constitute the largest proportions of all arrests at 46% each, the computed rate per population for Black people (16%) exceeds the white and Hispanic populations’ (1.5%).

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Black people make up about 5.5% of Dane County’s population and that whites make up about 84.9% of it. According to the JFA’s report, Black people make up about 88.9% of total arrests in Dane County. Whites, on the other hand, make up about 11.1% of total arrest in Dane County.

Dane County has a lower crime rate than the U.S., but its arrest rate is almost the same as Wisconsin’s and the nation at large, the analysis shows.

The analysis also shows that the higher arrest rates for Black people are not being driven by a specific arrest crime type.

Instead, the analysis suggests that the defendant’s behavior and police bias are the primary reasons for this disparity. Still the summary acknowledges the higher LOS, specifically for violent crimes, contributes to the racial/ethnic disparities.

The most solid conclusion to come out of the study was that the major source of disparity in jail populations occurs at the point of arrest, and that the findings in this study corroborate others.

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DANE COUNTY COURTHOUSE/MADISON CITY HALLWisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory

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UW-Madison student majoring in Journalism and Spanish with a certificate in Public Policy. Articles provided will have a special focus on government, racial inequities, student and community leaders and other local matters in the city of Madison. Soon to be Badger Herald State News Associate in Fall 2021.

Madison, WI
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