Milwaukee DA Chisholm Sends Fewer To Prison, Trimming Race Disparity


Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm has long been concerned about the racial imbalance in prisons, reports the New Yorker. In Wisconsin, African Americans are six percent of the population but thirty-seven percent of inmates. The Vera Institute of Justice found that Milwaukee prosecutors declined to charge 41 per cent of whites arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia, compared with 27 per cent of blacks. Chisholm decided that his office would try to send fewer people to prison while maintaining public safety. To some extent, he has succeeded. There are many fewer prosecutions of both blacks and whites for low-level drug offenses. Chisholm has stopped bringing cases for possession of drug paraphernalia. The county’s misdemeanor prosecutions have dropped from nine thousand to fifty-two hundred. Once Chisholm decided that all burglary-case filings must be approved by a senior prosecutor, the disparity that led to more cases against white alleged thieves than black ones faded.

The number of African-American residents of Milwaukee County sent to state prison on drug charges has been cut in half since 2006. Still, he says, “Almost all of our shootings and almost all of our homicides are black-on-black crime, and that's an enormous problem.” The Wisconsin prison population has dropped from 24,500 in in 2007, to 22,000, and most of the reduction has come from Milwaukee County. Still, the change in the racial makeup of the prison population has been modest. Chisholm said, “We're no longer sending low-level drug offenders to state prison, but we are still sending violent criminals, and that's keeping the African-American numbers up. If we do this right, the people who are going to prison should be going to prison. The people who are going to prison are dangerous.”

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