Panel examines state's high incarceration rate

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

BELOIT--A panel discussion at Beloit College will focus on the state's high incarceration rate and what can be done to reduce it.

WISDOM, a network of faith-based community groups in Wisconsin, has started the 11x15 Campaign for Safer Healthier Communities that aims to cut Wisconsin's prison population in half by the end of 2015.

WISDOM's Executive Director David Liners will moderate the discussion from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 26, in Wilson Theatre of Mayer Hall.

The program, “Incarceration Epidemic: Crisis in Wisconsin,” is free and open to the public.

Speaking on the panel will be Regina Dunkin, member of the Rock County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council; Robert Spoden, Rock County sheriff; Charles Westerberg, Beloit College associate professor of sociology; and Erick Williams, program manager for Community Action's transitional jobs and fatherhood programs.

Speakers will talk about effective alternatives to jail, including drug treatment courts, mental health courts and day report centers.

Beloit College's student interfaith group, Better Together, and Justice Overcoming Borders, a local faith-based community-organizing group, are sponsoring the discussion.

Wisconsin's demographics are similar to Minnesota, yet Wisconsin has twice as many people in prisons, and the state also spends twice as much, organizers say.

In addition, Wisconsin is the worst state for incarcerating black males.

A study released last year by researchers at the Employment and Training Institute at UW-Milwaukee shows that 12.8 percent of the state's African-American men are behind bars in state prison or local jails. The national average is 6.7 percent. The Wisconsin rate for white men is 1.24 percent.

Numbers are based on information from the 2010 U.S. Census.

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