How Wisconsin County Tries to Fix Justice System Racial Disparity


Richard Harris has a simple solution to the problem of racial disparities in Dane County, Wisconsin's criminal justice system: “Don't go out there and get in trouble,” reports the Wisconsin State Journal in the third of a series. Harris, a former drug dealer who spent nine years in prison and now runs a group called Vision Beyond Bars, urges black residents to help solve the problem by being mentors to young people and helping their own children stay out of trouble and stay in school.

“We've got everybody else trying to solve our problem,” Harris said. “The black community needs to get together and tell young black people that selling drugs is not entrepreneurship.” Harris’ message Its runs counter to the belief that racism is the main culprit for the disproportionate number of minorities who end up in the Dane County Jail and the state prison system. The Dane County Human Services Department will spend an estimated $2.7 million this year on programs to help young people stay out of trouble, including treatment for drug and alcohol problems, after-school tutoring, and employment training. Some officials favor an idea floated by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm to allow counties to keep half of the cost of incarcerating people — about $30,000 a year — for each offender they divert from prison. That would provide funding for prevention and alternative programs.

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