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I am more than my record. I am...


Impact Of

Wisconsin’s high black male incarceration rate impacts more than the men serving time, it affects families and communities.

Struggle to Find Work

Former inmates have a stigma attached to them, like “an anvil to their back,” and have a hard time getting a job and making a fresh start, according to the Rev. Willie Brisco, of Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope. Even those who’ve received job training might struggle, says former Wisconsin Department of Corrections psychologist Ramel Smith. “When they come out…they get hit with a world that won’t forget,” he says.

Armando is a 36-year-old unemployed carpenter who spent two years in prison for a drug charge. He says employers who take a chance on men with a record may find they’re the hardest workers, “because they have something to prove.”

Behavior Can Get Worse

Groups working to cut the state’s prison population focus largely on nonviolent offenders, including those with mental health or substance abuse issues. WISDOM, a coalition of faith groups, says incarceration likely won’t address such problems, which often are at the root of someone’s criminal behavior.

Others argue that incarcerating nonviolent men can change them for the worse, resulting in a greater chance of recidivism – even danger for the community. Milwaukee state Rep. Mandela Barnes says nonviolent offenders learn “violent means of survival” in order to get by, in prison.

Tough for Loved Ones, Especially Children

Wives, children and parents can suffer when their loved one is locked up. It may become harder for them to get by financially – and emotionally. Dr. Julie Poehlmann of UW-Madison says children of inmates “are at risk for experiencing things like school failure, truancy, behavior problems (and) conduct disorders.”

Victor Barnett of Running Rebels says children with a parent behind bars are more likely to follow a criminal path. Some develop a hopeless outlook. Barnett says children have told him they don’t expect to survive into adulthood. “There’s so many young people that feel that way, because they didn’t get inspired by their parents,” he says.

Problem for Everyone

Wisconsin’s high rate of black male incarceration affects everyone – not just the men and their families, according to Betty Brenneman of the Racine Interfaith Coalition. “We pay for it in lack of cultural richness. We pay for it in money; we pay for it in a sense of fear for a lot of people that are afraid to go into communities,” she says.

Certain neighborhoods are hit the hardest. Milwaukee’s 53206 zip code has the highest concentration of men who are in prison, or who’ve served time. Sr. Patricia Rogers, executive director of the Dominican Center of Women, says because so many former inmates remain unemployed, “the financial piece (is) not coming back into the community because of this incarceration. It’s just leaving this area devastated.”

Concentration of Released and Incarcerated Ex-Offenders in Milwaukee Zip Code 53206

From Wisconsin’s Mass Incarceration of African American Males: Workforce Challenges for 2013 report, by John Pawasarat and Lois M. Quinn of the Employment and Training Institute University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee.

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