One of the developments that led to Wisconsin's massive disparities in outcomes between whites and blacks is the passage of "tough on crime" measures in the 1990s, which emerged in no small part due to sensationalist media stirring up white suburban fears about minority criminals (I grew up in Tosa in this time period, don't tell me race wasn't part of the "crime issue"). This is reflected today in Milwaukee's poisonous suburb vs. city polarization -a polarization described in Alec MacGillis's cover story in the New Republic this week which went into great detail to show how Walker has used that racial division to his political advantage.
Fischer notes that Walker had a major role in developing these "lock em up" measures early in his career, which still manifests in Wisconsin's expensive and disproportionaty minority prison population.
Most notably, as a state legislator and ALEC member in the 1990s, Walker pushed ALEC-inspired tough-on-crime measures that experts say contributed to Wisconsin having the country's highest rate of African-American men behind bars. As governor, he has eliminated programs designed to track and remedy these disparities, and rolled-back efforts to soften harsh sentencing laws, even as sentencing reform gains bipartisan support across the country.The Fischer article also links up to a Capital Times article from 1999 where then-State Rep. Walker was trying to follow the ALEC-influenced policy of having state prisons be run by private, for-profit corporations, with more prisoners being imported in the name of jobs and cash.
Nationally, the incarceration rate for African-American men is 6.7 percent, but it is nearly double in Wisconsin, at 13 percent. This rate is three percentage points higher than in Oklahoma, the state in second place. According to recent data, African-American men are only 6% of Wisconsin's overall population but 48% of the state's prison population.
These complex disparities don't have a single cause, but criminal justice experts say that tough sentencing laws passed in the late 1990s -- with Walker's backing -- have been a significant contributing factor.
"The explosion really took place in the year 2000 to 2008 where mandatory sentencing, three strikes was put in place and it more than tripled the population in just a few years, which meant about half of the black men in their 30s or early 40s in Milwaukee County would have spent time in the state's correctional facilities. And two-thirds of the men come from the six poorest zip codes in Milwaukee," University of Wisconsin Professor John Pawasarat told National Public Radio.
Walker's proposals go way beyond pending legislation to buy or lease the Stanley prison from a private company. That prison would be operated by the state.And look who's one of the groups lobbying Walker and others in the State Legislature to get in on the prison-profit game- Wackenhut Corportation! Remember them? This Rachel Maddow story from the time of the 2011 Wisconsin Uprising may jog your memory. Walker's sweetheart deal with Wackenhut and his shoddy treatment of County courthouse guards presaged similar lies and union-busting he did as Governor. Also note that Maddow's rightful analysis that Act 10 was a political move to give GOPs a leg up in elections.
One of Walker's proposals would hand over the operation of Wisconsin state prisons to private companies, allowing them to take on a responsibility the state has held exclusively since 1851. No action has been taken yet on that bill.
His other proposal would clear the way for private companies to incarcerate convicts from other states, opening Wisconsin to a free-market trade in U.S. prisoners. That bill passed through Walker's committee last week and may reach the full Assembly in November.
Of course, Walker's privatization ploy ended up costing Milwaukee County taxpayers more than it would have cost to keep the unionized guards in the first place. This is yet another example of the pay-for-play mentality that this governor has, and I thank Brendan Fischer for finding these articles which enabled me to see Wackenhut's involvement in Scott Walker's prison privatization schemes from the 1990s. Those moves and the ALEC support behind it ties the circle together to explain the awful situation we see today in Wisconsin, with the worst racial disparities in America along with extreme political polarization, and run by a failing, corrupt governor that is driving the state into the gutter.