A conversation with some lawyers and a retired judge recently turned to the dismal evidence of racial disparity in Wisconsin’s prison system. Wisconsin is one of the worst states in the nation, and even harder to swallow, Madison is one of the worst cities in the nation for the disproportionate number of African Americans serving time in prison. There are a number of reasons including high levels of parole violation, but the number one cause is drug arrests and those too are disproportionate to the population given the widespread use of drugs in the white population.
Fixing this injustice will take a multi-faceted approach, but Attorney General Eric Holder took a step in the right direction this week with his order of a “fundamentally new approach” in the federal prosecution of low level drug offenders. In the simplest terms what Holder is saying is stop arresting so many people for pot possession. That should mean a reduction in the arrests of Black men. If it doesn’t we’ve got an even bigger problem than we think.