A Heartbreaker Named Detroit

As a native Milwaukeean, Detroit breaks my heart. There are just a few cities that you can go to that you remind you of home. Chicago and Cleveland are the big two. Cincinnati is reminiscent, but a bit too southern. Detroit — or what used to be left of Detroit — was another. (Minneapolis is an entirely different kind of place.)

So pieces like Matt LaBash’s recent cover piece for the Weekly Standard disturb me. Websites like this one are fascinating and frightening chronicles of how bad urban decay can get. I have always thought that a conservatism that has no concern for places like the inner-city of Detroit is not a conservatism that I want to be part of.

But one cannot, I think, make a great city by litigation or subsidy. Here in Milwaukee, the ACLU has filed a complaint with the Federal Department of Transportation alleging that actions of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in approving the certain aspects of the reconstruction of I-94, including the partial closure of a city interchange and the construction of a new suburban interchange, violate the anti-discrimination provisions of Title VI and its implementing regulations. It also complains of a decision to widen the freeway (which runs through the city) from six to eight lanes instead of using the money for commuter rail.

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Time for Racial Impact Statements in Wisconsin?

As reported in the new issue of Sentencing Times, Iowa and Connecticut adopted new laws earlier this year that call for the preparation of racial impact statements as sentencing bills are working their way through the state legislative process.  In many states, it is already required that fiscal and environmental impact statements be prepared for new legislative proposals, but Iowa and Connecticut are the first to adopt a similar policy with respect to racial concerns.  This seems like a good idea for other states to consider–particularly states like Wisconsin with glaring racial disparities in their prison populations.  Of course, the fact that a sentencing proposal might exacerbate racial disparities would not (and should not) necessarily preclude its adoption, but the debate over such proposals would benefit from more self-conscious and well-informed attention to their racial impacts.

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Responding to Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System

The Sentencing Project has just published a new edition of Reducing Racial Disparity in the Criminal Justice System, a manual for policymakers that describes numerous best practices for addressing disparities.  This publication should be of particular interest in Milwaukee and Wisconsin, which have some of the worst criminal justice disparities in the nation.  As The Sentencing Project described in a May publication, blacks in Milwaukee are seven times more likely than whites to be arrested for a drug offense, the second-highest such disparity among the forty-three major American cities analyzed.  Similarly, a state-level analysis by Human Rights Watch determined that blacks in Wisconsin are forty-two times more likely than whites to receive a prison term for a drug conviction, the highest such disparity among the thirty-four states studied.

Of course, to say that there are racial disparities is not to say the disparities are necessarily unwarranted.  For instance, if it turned out that blacks committed serious drug crimes more frequently than whites, then at least some of statistical disparities might be warranted.  Still, the magnitude of the racial disparities in Milwaukee and Wisconsin is so high, particularly in comparison to national norms, that there is good reason to believe we do indeed have a serious problem.

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