Nationally, African Americans are nearly four times more likely to be charged with marijuana possession than whites, although their rates of marijuana use are similar, according to a 2013 ACLU report, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/aclu-thewaronmarijuana-rel2.pdf. “Whites are the majority of drug offenders, but blacks are the majority sent to prison on drug charges,” writes Jamie Fellner, senior counsel in the U.S. program at Human Rights Watch and author of “Targeting Blacks: Drug Law Enforcement and Race in the United States”.
In Wisconsin, blacks are six times as likely to be charged with possession than whites, the fourth highest disparity in the nation, behind neighboring states Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois. In Milwaukee County, where nearly 70 percent of the state’s African Americans live, 4.7 blacks are arrested for marijuana possession for every one white, according to the ACLU, which examined data from 2001 through 2010. FBI statistics show that in the City of Milwaukee, blacks were 5.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available.
Racial disparity in marijuana arrests is a key contributor to racial disparity in incarceration. Possession of marijuana was among the most frequent crimes charged in the state between 2011-2013 and most of the cases originated in Milwaukee, according to data provided by the Wisconsin Office of the Director of State Courts.
Wisconsin leads the nation in terms of racial disparity in the prison system, according to a UW- Milwaukee report by Professor John Pawasarat, who studied two decades of Wisconsin’s prison and employment data in Wisconsin’s Mass Incarceration of African American Males: Workforce Challenges for 2013 https://www4.uwm.edu/eti/2013/BlackImprisonment.pdf. The state’s 12.8 per 100 incarceration rate for black males is almost double the national average and three percentage points higher than the state with the second-highest disparity (Oklahoma), the study found. From the report: “The prison population in Wisconsin has more than tripled since 1990, fueled by increased government funding for drug enforcement (rather than treatment) and prison construction, three-strike rules, mandatory minimum sentence laws, truth-in-sentencing replacing judicial discretion in setting punishments, concentrated policing in minority communities, and state incarceration for minor probation and supervision violations. Particularly impacted were African American males, with the 2010 U.S. Census showing Wisconsin having the highest black male incarceration rate in the nation. In Milwaukee County over half of African American men in their 30s have served time in state prison.”
Pawasarat’s study of mass incarceration reveals harrowing rates of incarceration of African American males in Wisconsin. Using data from the 2010 Census, they find Wisconsin posts the highest black male incarceration rate in the nation at 12.8 percent. This is nearly double the national rate of 6.7 percent. Wisconsin’s rate of white male incarceration hovered just below the national rate at 1.2 percent. In Wisconsin, then, black males are more than ten times more likely than white males to serve time in a state prison or local jail. Oklahoma, the state with the second highest rate of African American male incarceration (9.7) demonstrates significantly less disparity, incarcerating one white male for every four black.
Before you dismiss these statistics as just one study, other studies such as “Disparity by Geography: The War on Drugs in America’s Cities” by The Sentencing Project, http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/dp_drugarrestreport.pdf and the other, “Targeting Blacks: Drug Law Enforcement and Race in the United States,” by Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/us0508_1.pdf found:
• Blacks in Wisconsin are 42 times more likely than whites to receive prison terms for drug convictions. Wisconsin has the highest racial disparity in drug sentencing in the nation.
• Blacks in Milwaukee are seven times more likely to be arrested for a drug offense than whites. Milwaukee has the second-highest racial disparity for drug arrests among all major U.S. cities.
• Nationally, the rate of drug arrests of African-Americans in more than 40 large cities increased 225% since 1980, compared with 70% among whites.