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Wondering what boosted Trump in Wisconsin? A look at the exit polls

Donald Trump prevailed in Wisconsin on Nov. 8 by rolling up overwhelming support from white men and political independents, while making inroads among groups that were vital for Hillary Clinton.

Here’s a look at preliminary results from exit polling conducted in Wisconsin for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Research.

 

RACE AND GENDER

Trump took about six in 10 votes among white men, while battling Clinton to a draw among white women.

Women overall favored Clinton, but more than four in 10 went with Trump.

About nine in 10 women and six in 10 Hispanics supported Clinton.

 

GENERATION GAP

Clinton won among voters ages 18-44 while Trump carried the 45-and-older group, which made up about 60 percent of the overall electorate.

Voters in the youngest subgroup — ages 18-24 — were evenly divided.

Clinton was strongest among ages 30-39, while Trump did best among ages 50-64.

 

ECONOMIC PESSIMISM

More than half of Wisconsin voters rated the economy as the top issue facing the nation, while smaller groups picked terrorism, foreign policy or immigration.

Trump did well among the six in 10 voters who described the economy as poor or “not good.”

He also carried a majority of the four in 10 who predicted things would go downhill for the next generation.

 

A MATTER OF CHARACTER

Nearly two-thirds of voters — and about one-quarter of his own supporters — said Trump was unqualified.

Most also said he lacked the needed temperament.

Clinton scored better in both areas.

But voters gave both candidates negative ratings and said they were dishonest.

 

INCOME AND EDUCATION

Education levels produced another stark contrast.

A majority of voters had no college degree and nearly six in 10 of them favored Trump.

Clinton won among college graduates, but they made up a smaller share of the total.

Voters in most income groups were about evenly divided.

But Trump prevailed among the one-third of voters in the $50,000-$100,000 bracket.

 

PARTY AND PHILOSOPHY

Roughly the same number of voters described themselves as Republicans or Democrats and about nine in 10 of those supported their nominee.

But Trump won easily among the three in 10 independents.

Moderates and liberals backed Clinton, while Trump carried more than eight in 10 conservatives.

 

RELIGION AND MARRIAGE

Trump won comfortably among the nearly three in 10 voters who attend religious services weekly or more often, while Clinton did well with the one-quarter who never attend.

About three-quarters of white evangelicals favored Trump.

Married men favored Trump by nearly two-to-one, while married women and unmarried men were about evenly divided.

Unmarried women favored Clinton.

 

RACE AND IMMIGRATION

About four in 10 Wisconsin voters said whites generally are favored in the United States, while one-quarter said minorities are favored and one-third said no group gets special treatment.

Nearly six in 10 said immigrants help the U.S., while about one-third said they hurt.

About seven in 10 said immigrants working illegally in the U.S. should be offered a chance to apply for legal status, while one-quarter said they should be deported.

 

HEALTH AND TRADE

Nearly half of the state’s voters said the 2010 health care law known as “Obamacare” had gone too far, while three in 10 said it hadn’t gone far enough.

About half said trade with other nations takes away American jobs, while about one-third said it creates jobs and about one in 10 said it makes no difference.

 

WHAT MATTERS MOST

About four in 10 Wisconsin voters said the most important quality for the next president was to bring about needed change, instead of having experience or good judgment.

More than eight in 10 of them backed Trump.

 

WHAT ABOUT OBAMA?

A slight majority voiced approval of Barack Obama’s job performance, but more than half said the next president should pursue more conservative policies.

Nearly three-quarters of voters gave the federal government a negative rating. They overwhelmingly backed Trump.

 

The survey of 3,047 Wisconsin voters was conducted for AP and the television networks by Edison Research. This includes preliminary results from interviews conducted as voters left a random sample of 50 precincts statewide Tuesday, as well as 358 who voted early or absentee and were interviewed by landline or cellular telephone from Oct. 28 through Nov. 6. Results for the full sample were subject to sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points; it is higher for subgroups.

Latinos: Will the ‘sleeping giant’ awaken for Nov. 8?

Continue reading Latinos: Will the ‘sleeping giant’ awaken for Nov. 8?

Judge orders probe of state’s failure to issue photo IDs to voters

A federal judge has ordered the state of Wisconsin to investigate reports that transportation workers are failing to issue temporary photo IDs for voting, as required by law.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson issued his order around the same time a civil liberties group filed a motion in a separate case demanding a federal appellate court invalidate voter ID requirements in Wisconsin because the state hasn’t abided by its pledge.

Under Wisconsin law, voters must show a form of government-approved photo identification at the polls. People who lack such identification can obtain free photo IDs at state Department of Transportation Division of Motor Vehicles field offices.

The agency in May announced that people who want IDs but lack the underlying supporting documents such as birth certificates could get a receipt valid for voting. The move was designed to blunt a pair of lawsuits alleging that voters who lack such documents face tough challenges in obtaining free photo IDs.

Peterson ruled in July that the DOT’s petition process to obtain the receipt was a “wretched failure” because it still left black and Hispanic citizens unable to obtain IDs. He ordered the state to quickly issue credentials valid for voting to anyone who enters the petition process but lack the necessary documents, including birth certificates.

The Nation published a story last week alleging that DMV workers at a field office told a man named Zack Moore that he couldn’t obtain a temporary ID because he lacked a birth certificate and that the way IDs were being handled was still up in the air. The story went on to say that Molly McGrath, the national campaign coordinator with VoteRiders, visited 10 DMV stations where employees gave people a wide range of answers about how long it would take to get an ID.

Moore tried to obtain his ID on Sept. 22. That was the same day Attorney General Brad Schimel filed an update with Peterson saying all DMV field staff had been trained to ensure anyone who fills out an application to enter the petition process will get an ID mailed to them within six days.

“These reports, if true, demonstrate that the state is not in compliance with this court’s … order, which requires the state to ‘promptly issue a credential valid as a voting ID to any person who enters (the petition process) or who has a petition pending,”” Peterson wrote.

He ordered the state to investigate and report back to him by Oct. 7.

Transportation spokeswoman Patricia Mayers called the stories of problems at the DMV offices “concerning and … not consistent with DMV protocol.” She said the agency has already launched an investigation and will report its findings to Peterson, as ordered.

“DMV remains committed to working with all eligible voters to ensure they receive free identification, as required for voting,” she wrote in an email.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion in a separate voter ID challenge before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The motion alleges that the DOT isn’t issuing voting credentials to people in the petition process and has violated its promise that anyone who goes to the DMV for photo IDs will get an ID with whatever documents they possess.

The ACLU alleged that DMV workers have failed to tell applicants the petition process exists, that applicants have had to make multiple visits to DMV offices and that workers have incorrectly told people that in order to begin the petition process, they need proof of identity such as a social security card — which can’t be obtained without a photo ID. As many as 1,640 eligible voters in Milwaukee County lack both ID and a Social Security card, the ALCU alleged.

The group also claimed that people who present birth certificates with misspellings haven’t been allowed to enter the process and DMV field offices offer limited hours. The motion asks the court allow voters who lack photo IDs to cast ballots by affidavit or completely invalidate the voter ID law.

“People who have started (the petition process) are supposed to get a temporary ID but as we’re seeing on the ground that’s not happening,” ACLU attorney Sean Young said in a telephone interview. “DMV employees aren’t implementing their own procedures. DMV cannot be trusted to this correctly.”

The state Department of Justice is defending the voter ID law in the case. DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos said agency attorneys are reviewing the ACLU’s filing.

— By Todd Richmond, AP writer

Racism and talk of religious war: Trump staff’s online posts

Donald Trump’s paid campaign staffers have declared on their personal social media accounts that Muslims are unfit to be American citizens, ridiculed Mexican accents, called for Secretary of State John Kerry’s death by hanging and stated their readiness for a possible civil war, according to a review of their postings by The Associated Press.

The AP examined the social media and backgrounds of current and former campaign staffers who helped propel Trump through the primary elections. Most come across as dedicated, enthusiastic partisans, but at least seven expressed views that were overtly racially charged, supportive of violent actions or broadly hostile to Muslims.

A graphic designer for Trump’s advance team approvingly posted video of a black man eating fried chicken and criticizing fellow blacks for ignorance, irresponsibility and having too many children.

A Trump field organizer in Virginia declared that Muslims were seeking to impose Sharia law in America and that “those who understand Islam for what it is are gearing up for the fight.”

The AP’s findings come at a time when Trump is showing interest in appealing to minority voters, insisting he will be fair in dealing with the 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal documents and explicitly pitching himself to African-Americans, saying “what do you have to lose?”

The AP also reviewed the public social media accounts of more than three dozen employees of Hillary Clinton’s far larger campaign staff and found nothing as inflammatory. One staffer said Trump’s style of speaking reminded him of a roommate who had taken too many hallucinogenic mushrooms.

AP also reviewed images attached to more than 19,000 stolen internal emails from the Democratic National Committee for racially or religiously inflammatory memes, finding nothing of note.

Earlier this summer, the AP sent written questions to the Trump campaign with examples of the posts. The campaign has not commented, despite several requests since.

Veteran Republican campaign operatives said keeping an eye on staffers’ social media postings has long been a standard practice.

Beth Myers, a Mitt Romney aide in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns, said she stressed to employees that what they said and did, both inside and outside of social media, would reflect on the candidate who employed them. “Don’t put anything in an email that you wouldn’t want on the front page of The New York Times,” she recalled telling staff. “The same thing I told my kids, I told my staffers.”

Myers was not commenting on any campaign specifically.

The AP found little questionable content in the ranks of Trump’s top officials.

State-level organizers, however, posted jokes and criticism about race and religion.

Before being tapped in November as statewide director of coalitions, Craig Bachler of Bradenton, Florida, had posted jokes about Mexican accents superimposed over pictures of an overweight man wearing a sombrero. There is no record Bachler was paid for his work.

After an AP reporter inquired about his posts, some material was removed from his account and a reporter’s access was blocked.

Some posts demonstrated a fixation with black-on-white violence with claims that news of such crimes was being suppressed.

“How about this little white boy being murdered by a black man,” grassroots organizer Annie Marie Delgado of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, wrote in December 2014. Delgado also shared a discredited fake photo of Kerry and Jane Fonda along with her own comment: “I say hang them!” She was paid $11,146 through April, according to campaign records.

Delgado told the AP she did not recall posting some of the items and would not have posted others if she had reviewed their content more closely.

Fear or dislike of Muslims was a recurring theme among some employees’ personal accounts.

On Facebook, Mark Kevin Lloyd of Lynchburg, Virginia, who has been paid $36,000 as Trump’s field director in the state, shared a post June 30 calling Islam “a barbaric cult.” He shared a meme June 16, four days after the Orlando nightclub mass shooting by a Muslim pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, saying people should be forced to eat bacon before they can purchase firearms.

Lloyd declined to talk to the AP without the Trump campaign’s permission, citing his nondisclosure agreement with the campaign.

During her time with the campaign, Delgado deplored the appointment of a Muslim-American judge in New York.

“Step by step … this is how American culture will end,” she wrote Feb. 27, expressing confidence the judge would impose Sharia law.

Scott Barrish, who earned $12,250 as Trump’s political director for the Tampa Bay, Florida region, took his views beyond social media posts. In 2011, he drew local press coverage for writing to the head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations saying he was wise to its plans to establish a totalitarian theocracy in the United states.

“This is us vs. you,” wrote Barrish. “In the great words of the late President Ronald Reagan, ‘I win, you lose!””

Separately, Barrish tweeted in 2013 that he hoped America wasn’t headed for civil war, but “if our freedoms must be defended against a tyrannical government, so be it.”

“Those comments at that time were made by me and were my own personal view,” Barrish said in a brief interview with AP. He said he stopped working for Trump’s campaign after the Florida primary. “I don’t want to detract anything from the campaign.”

DIVIDED AMERICA: Minorities missing in many legislatures

As Virginia’s only Latino state lawmaker, Alfonso Lopez made it his first order of business to push for a law granting in-state college tuition to immigrants living since childhood in the U.S. without legal documents.

The bill died in committee.

So Lopez tried again the next year. And the year after that.

Now, in his fifth year in office, Lopez is gearing up for one more attempt in 2017.

“If we had a more diverse (legislature) and more Latinos in the House of Delegates,” he says, “I don’t think it would be as difficult.”

America’s government is a lot whiter than American itself and not just in Virginia.

While minorities have made some political gains in recent decades, they remain significantly underrepresented in Congress and nearly every state legislature though they comprise a growing share of the U.S. population, according to an analysis of demographic data by The Associated Press. The disparity in elected representation is especially large for Hispanics, even though they are now the nation’s largest ethnic minority.

A lack of political representation can carry real-life consequences, and not only on hot-button immigration issues. State spending for public schools, housing and social programs all can have big implications for minority communities. So can decisions on issues such as criminal justice reform, election laws or the printing of public documents in other languages besides English.

When the people elected don’t look, think, talk or act like the people they represent, it can deepen divisions that naturally exist in the U.S.

Campaigning door-to-door in the heavily Latino neighborhoods of south Omaha, Nebraska, first-time legislative candidate Tony Vargas has talked with numerous people afraid to participate in democracy. Some felt shunned or confused when they once attempted to vote. Others have misconceptions about the legal requirements to do so. Some simply believe their vote doesn’t matter.

“You can hear the fear in people’s voices, and you can hear that they feel like less of a member of society, less of an American,” says Vargas, whose parents came to the U.S. from Peru.

Though Hispanics now make up 10 percent of Nebraska’s population, there is not a single Latino lawmaker in its Legislature.

The Associated Press analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Congress and the National Conference of State Legislatures to determine the extent to which the nation’s thousands of lawmakers match the demographics of its hundreds of millions of residents. The result: Non-Hispanic whites make up a little over 60 percent of the U.S. population, but still hold more than 80 percent of all congressional and state legislative seats.

Among major minority groups:

  • Blacks are the least underrepresented but still face sizable gaps in some places. In Mississippi and Louisiana, about one-third of the population is black. Yet each state has a single black member of Congress and a disproportionately small number in their state legislatures.
  • More than half the states still have no lawmakers with Asian or Pacific Islander heritage, and just four states have any in Congress.
  • Hispanics comprise more than 17 percent of the U.S. population, yet they are fewer than 7 percent in Congress and fewer than 4 percent of state legislators. The gaps in representation exist even in California, New Mexico and Texas, with the largest Latino populations.

There are many reasons for the disparities.

The U.S. Hispanic population generally is younger and less likely to be eligible voters. And those who can vote often don’t. Voter turnout among Hispanics (as well as Asian Americans) dipped to just 27 percent in 2014, compared with 41 percent for blacks and 46 percent for whites, according to the Pew Research Center. Low voter involvement can make it harder to recruit minority candidates, and less likely for minority communities to be targeted by campaigns.

“It becomes sort of self-fulfilling _ they’re not likely voters, so you don’t talk to them, and because you don’t talk to them, they don’t become likely voters,” says political consultant Roger Salazar, whose clients include California’s legislative Latino caucus.

The power of incumbency also can work against minority representation. Decades of deeply ingrained name recognition have helped white lawmakers continue to get elected in some districts where population shifts have gradually made racial minorities the majority.

Another factor is the way legislative districts have been drawn. Racial gerrymandering can occur either when minority communities are divided among multiple districts to dilute their voting strength or when they are packed heavily into a single district to diminish the likelihood of minorities winning multiple seats.

In states that have elected a critical mass of minority legislators, they’ve claimed some policy successes.

In California, a new law expands the state’s Medi-Cal health care program for low-income residents to immigrant children, regardless of their legal status. The state budget includes $15 million for nonprofits to help immigrants gain U.S. citizenship or remain in the country. And a law that kicked in last year provided drivers’ licenses to more than 600,000 people living in the country illegally.

But minority legislators in numerous states told the AP that their priorities have been stymied partly due to a lack of others like them.

For 22 years, Delaware state Sen. Margaret Rose Henry has been the only black senator in a state where African-Americans comprise more than one-fifth of all residents. Henry says she has long sought to improve the educational opportunities for black children bused under a Wilmington desegregation plan to suburban schools. But recommendations from multiple studies have gone nowhere over the years.

Now, a new commission has recommended realigning Wilmington area school districts and revising the state funding formula to direct more money to schools with larger numbers of students who are low-income, learning English or at high risk of not completing school. Henry fears the plan will again be difficult to pass.

“If there were more black elected officials, we would have a better chance to get something done,” she says.

 

 

Wisconsin needs to be welcoming place for immigrant workers

Thousands rallied on Feb. 18 in Madison to protest two pieces of legislation. The bills deal with restrictions on issuing local identification cards and a ban on “sanctuary cities,” where police and other public employees are not allowed to ask about someone’s citizenship status.

It’s critical that Wisconsin be a welcoming place for Latino and other immigrant workers who play such an important role in many parts of the economy.

Dairy farmers face significant struggles in finding and retaining workers because of the demands of the job. This is a very real problem and one that poses a major threat to our farms as well as the host of businesses and services connected to dairy.

Dairy accounts for $43.4 billion of Wisconsin’s annual economy, almost half of agriculture’s overall impact. Immigrants, particularly Latinos, are key.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison study in 2009, the most recent available, found that about 40 percent or 5,300 of all employees on dairy farms in the state were immigrants, with 90 percent of them from Mexico.

Ultimately, federal immigration reforms are needed to provide some avenue for those workers to remain in the country regardless of their status.

The state bills could have limited practical impact, but they signal that Wisconsin does not value immigrants’ contributions.

That’s not the sort of message we should be sending. Driving away immigrant workers is not the answer.

Editor’s note: The Dairy Business Association is a nonprofit organization of Wisconsin dairy farmers, milk processors, vendors and business partners.


Asians to surge past Hispanics as largest group of U.S. immigrants

In a major shift in immigration patterns over the next 50 years, Asians will have surged past Hispanics to become the largest group of immigrants heading to the United States, according to estimates in a new immigration study.

The study looks in detail at what will happen by 2065, but the actual tipping point comes in 2055.

An increase in Asian and Hispanic immigration also will drive U.S. population growth, with foreign-born residents expected to make up 18 percent of the country’s projected 441 million people in 50 years, the Pew Research Center said in a report being released Monday. This will be a record, higher than the nearly 15 percent during the late 19th century and early 20th century wave of immigration from Europe.

Today, immigrants make up 14 percent of the population, an increase from 5 percent in 1965.

The actual change is expected to come in 2055, when Asians will become the largest immigrant group at 36 percent, compared with Hispanics at 34 percent. White immigrants to America, 80 percent back in 1965, will hover somewhere between 18 and 20 percent, with black immigrants in the 8 percent to 9 percent range, the study said.

Currently, 47 percent of immigrants living in the United States are Hispanic, but by 2065 that number will have dropped to 31 percent. Asians currently make up 26 percent of the immigrant population but in 50 years that percentage is expected to increase to 38 percent.

Pew researchers analyzed a combination of Census Bureau information and its own data to develop its projections.

Part of the reason for the shift is that the fertility rate of women in Latin America and especially Mexico has decreased, said Mark Hugo Lopez, Pew’s director of Hispanic research. In Mexico, Lopez said, women are now having around two children, when back in the 1960s and 1970s, they were having about seven children per woman.

“There are relatively fewer people who would choose to migrate from Mexico so demographic changes in Mexico have led to a somewhat smaller pool of potential migrants,” he said. “At the same time we’ve seen a growing number of immigrants particularly from China or India who are coming for reasons such as pursuing a college degree or coming here to work temporarily in the high-tech sector.”

Despite the increase in Asian immigrants, Hispanics will still make up a larger number actually living inside the United States, Lopez said.

“Hispanic population growth is coming from people born here in the United States,” he said. “It is really U.S. births that are now the driver of Hispanic population growth, and that’s a recent change from what we saw in the ’80s and ’90s.”

By 2065, no racial or ethnic group will hold a majority in the United States, with whites holding 46 percent of the population, Hispanics at 24 percent, Asians at 14 percent and blacks at 13 percent. Currently, the country is 62 percent white, 18 percent Hispanic, 12 percent black and 6 percent Asian.

Pew also asked Americans surveyed for one word to describe immigrants in the U.S. today. Twelve percent said “illegal,” ”overpopulation” was at 5 percent, “legality (other than illegal)” at 4 percent, and “jobs,” ”deportation,” ”Americans” and “work ethic” at 3 percent each. Forty-nine percent offered general descriptions, and of those 12 percent were positive, 11 percent negative and 26 percent neutral, according to the report.

Americans also said immigrants are likely to make the United States better, with 45 percent agreeing with that statement and 37 percent saying they make the country worse. Eighteen said they don’t have much of an effect one way or the other.

The survey was conducted online from March 10 to April 6, 2015. The survey’s margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.4 percentage points.

Pope to highlight contributions of Hispanics at mass in D.C.

The first pope from the Americas will canonize a Spanish friar who brought the Catholic faith to California in front of the largest Catholic church in North America.

There will be plenty of symbolism in Pope Francis’ visit to Washington next week, and the city’s archbishop said Thursday that while the pope will be speaking as a pastor, not a politician, he could address an issue that bitterly divides the nation’s leaders: immigration.

“I think the message of the Holy Father is going to be the message he’s been giving now for a long time: There has to be a way to welcome people who are so desperately trying to share what we already have,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington. “I suspect the Holy Father will highlight that in some way.”

Pope Francis will celebrate the Mass of canonization for Junipero Serra in Spanish, and several thousand of the 25,000 tickets to the event will be reserved for Spanish-speaking people, many of them from California, Wuerl said.

Serra established the first Catholic missions in California in the 18th Century; he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988. Some California Native Americans oppose Serra’s canonization, calling him a destroyer of indigenous culture.

The Mass will provide an opportunity to highlight the contributions of Hispanics to the nation and the church, Wuerl said.

“Historically, and we’re talking now over a long period of time but certainly in the recent history, the strongest and most consistent voice for the welcoming of immigrants, for the welcoming of the stranger into our land, has been the Catholic church,” he said.

Next Wednesday’s Mass will be celebrated in a temporary sanctuary that’s being built on the east portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The church can comfortably seat 3,500 people, and up to 10,000 can cram inside on special occasions like Easter. But the pope’s visit is more than that, and the archdiocese can’t hope to accommodate everyone who wants to attend. There will be 15,000 seats on the lawn in front of the church, and the remaining 10,000 people will have to stand.

“If we had 100,000 seats, we’d have 100,000 people,” said Monsignor Walter Rossi, rector of the basilica.

Inside the basilica will be more than 2,000 men and women from around the United States who are studying to be priests and nuns. Pope Francis will bless them before the Mass.

The temporary altar for the Mass was designed by three architecture students from neighboring Catholic University who won a design competition.

Wisconsin’s criminal justice policies trap people of color in prison system | WiG cover story

The last line of “The Star Spangled Banner” proclaims America to be “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” But the “free” portion of that statement does not apply to a huge swath of the population, particularly people of color.

For decades, the United States has had the world’s largest prison population — by far. In 2013, the most recent year for which WiG could find consistent statistics, the nation’s federal and state prisons, along with its city and county jails, housed 2.2 million people tried as adults. Another 4.7 million adults were on probation or parole. Though just over 4 percent of the world’s population lives in the United States, we account for 22 percent of the world’s prisoners.

Put another way, the nation’s 2013  per capita incarceration rate stood at 716 per 100,000, which compares with a rate of about 100 per 100,000 citizens in most countries. One in 35 Americans is in some way caught up in the criminal justice system — and that involvement is racially suspect.

According the American Civil Liberties Union, while a white male’s chances of ever being jailed are 1 in 17, a Latino male’s odds are 1 in 6, and an African-American male’s astonishing odds are 1 in 3.

In Wisconsin, the racial disparity is even more pronounced: Six percent of Wisconsin’s population is African-American, but half of its prison population is black.

‘SOCIAL EXPERIMENTATION’

Mass incarceration stems to a great extent from the so-called “war on drugs,” an experiment that has been devastating to the U.S. The majority of those jailed in this country are non-violent drug offenders, and prejudice plays a strong role in who gets sent to prison for such offenses. For decades, crack cocaine offenders — mostly black — received far more severe punishments than white people arrested for possessing powder cocaine. A 2010 law reduced that sentencing disparity.

Nonetheless, in 2013, nearly three-fourths of people sentenced for drug offenses in federal court were Hispanic or black, according to federal statistics.

 “There are more blacks in prison (nationally) now than there were living under slavery in 1860,” says David Liners, director of the Wisconsin chapter of WISDOM, a justice reform group composed of faith-based organizations. 

“This is social experimentation on a grand scale,” he continues. “No one has ever experienced this before. Half the African-American community in Milwaukee and other cities is incarcerated and we pay so many prices — the price for kids without dads and people not working.”

The Wisconsin incarceration rate is likely to grow even higher due to recent laws that allow people to be thrown in jail for not paying fees ordered by the criminal justice system, such as traffic fines.

As a measure of how Wisconsin’s incarceration rate affects the whole state, Liners offers this statistic: The cost of corrections in Wisconsin now exceeds the budget for the entire UW system.

ARBITRARY REINCARCERATION

In addition to the failed “war on drugs,” there’s another reason why Wisconsin jails so many of its own: parole revocation for non-violent offenses. Under Wisconsin’s parole system, former inmates are sent back to jail for the entire duration of their sentences due to minor violations of parole. Mark Rice, who chairs WISDOM’s Revocations Workgroup, frequently cites the case of Hector Cubero as an example.

Cubero, 52, served 27 years behind bars for being a party to the crimes of first-degree murder and armed robbery when he was 18 years old. Evidence showed he played no role in the killing, and he had adjusted well to life outside prison.

But after four years on parole, he unwittingly gave a tattoo to a 15-year-old, which is a misdemeanor city ordinance violation. The maximum penalty is 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Cubero says the teen claimed to be of age, but Cubero still got sent back to  prison — possibly for the rest of his life.

The tattoo was of a cross and a quote from peace activist Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Other states, including Alabama, North Carolina, Washington and Hawaii, have put limits on the amount of time that released inmates can be incarcerated for rules violations, which commonly include unauthorized computer or cell phone use, crossing county lines, missing appointments with probation officers and entering a bar. 

Parole revocations account for more than half of the 8,000 people entering Wisconsin prisons each year, and the practice costs Wisconsin taxpayers $100 million annually. 

Probation officers have control over parole revocation, and there are no uniform standards, according to Liners. One parolee might be sent back to prison simply for creating an unauthorized email account, while others are not sent back for more serious violations.

Parolees who are reincarcerated have no right to a lawyer or a trial. There is no requirement for proof beyond a reasonable doubt, even though parole revocation can send inmates back to prison for decades.

Liners says that revocation of parole is so commonly ordered by some probation officers that inmates released under their supervision don’t even try to avoid it. They assume they’ll be sent back no matter what they do, Liners says.

The subjectivity of the process allows personal prejudice to play a role, and African-Americans are disproportionately targeted, just as they are in policing. Half of parolees sent back to prison are African American.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

A driving force behind the nation’s prison statistics is the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, which represents wealthy corporate interests, presents model-legislation templates to state representatives to take home to their Legislatures in exchange for campaign donations. During the 1980s and ’90s, ALEC began promoting laws to establish private, for-profit prisons and commercial bail-bonding companies, which corporate leaders saw as potentially lucrative new revenue sources. ALEC also pushed forward laws that would increase the prison population. 

Wisconsin has thus far declined to adopt either private bail bondsmen or private prisons.

Conditions in private prisons are notoriously worse than public ones and produce greater recidivism. 

“For-profit prisons are by their nature not consistent with any sort of rehabilitative goals,” says John Stedman, an organizer for Jonah, an ecumenical organization for justice issues in the Chippewa Valley. “I think the profit motive gets in the way of what justice and rehabilitation are about.” 

In June, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos squeezed an 11th-hour provision into the 2015–17 biennial budget that would have allowed for-profit bail bondsmen in the state, but Gov. Scott Walker vetoed it, saying that it needed public discussion. Vos, who reportedly hopes to take Walker’s place in the governor’s mansion, has vowed to introduce the measure for a full hearing in the near future.

But as an assemblyman, Walker was instrumental in setting the stage for Wisconsin’s mass-incarceration problem. Seeking to make a name for himself as a “tough on crime” leader, he introduced dozens of laws to lengthen criminal penalties for everything from perjury to intoxicated boating, according to a report published by The Nation in February.

In 1995, Walker spearheaded the shipping of Wisconsin inmates to out-of-state, for-profit prisons run by the Corrections Corporation of America, one of his major campaign donors. CCA was the recipient not only of Wisconsin inmates, but also about $45 million of Wisconsin taxpayers’ money before Gov. Tommy Thompson increased in-state capacity and ended the practice, according to Liners.

In the 1997–98 legislative session, Walker championed “truth-in-sentencing” laws, which eliminated the possibility of early release for good behavior or rehabilitation. In total, he sponsored or co-sponsored 27 different bills that expanded the definition of crimes and increased mandatory minimum sentences.

Prior to truth-in-sentencing, convicts who’d cooperated in prison were released after serving 67 percent of their sentences and completed their sentences under supervision.

Correction workers liked that policy, because it gave them a carrot and a stick to work with: If prisoners did as they were told, they could be released early, and if not they’d serve their entire sentences behind bars. 

Now the only stick correction officers have is solitary confinement, which is often needed just to house prisoners in overcrowded facilities. 

Under truth in sentencing, parole is meted out separately. Because so many harsh sentences were handed down to non-violent offenders, including people caught with small amounts of marijuana, that prisons quickly became overcrowded.  

Truth in sentencing has been particularly devastating in African-American communities. For example, despite similar rates of marijuana usage among blacks and whites, five times as many African-Americans in Milwaukee are arrested for marijuana possession as whites.

To alleviate prison overcrowding, Gov. Jim Doyle adopted a law allowing for early release of eligible prisoners. The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin praised the move.

But Walker restored truth in sentencing in 2011, noting that getting rid of the policy had only affected 479 inmates and produced “limited” savings. As a result of his action, the number of inmates paroled annually dropped precipitously. In 2008, 440 prisoners were paroled. But by 2013, that number had shrunk to 152. 

Walker’s union-busting Act 10 exacerbated the problem of prison overcrowding by causing a shortage of prison workers. As it did for teachers and other public workers, Act 10 took away correction officers’ rights to collective bargaining and increased by 18 percent their contributions for health and pension benefits. Many decided the job was too dangerous for the money and either retired or quit.

Now the state faces a critical shortage of qualified people willing to work in the prisons. And the challenges of Wisconsin’s prisons don’t stop there. As Liners puts it, “The Department of Corrections has a world of problems.”

As of April, 8 percent of positions for correction officers and sergeants in the state were unfilled — four times the rate of April 2010. As a result, overtime pay has spiked and personnel shortages have become so problematic at one facility that the state is paying mileage and hotel costs for guards who agree to work there on a temporary basis, according to a report compiled by the Daily Kos.

SOLUTIONS ARE POSSIBLE

WISDOM wants to set limits on how long a parolee can be reincarcerated for minor parole violations and to end lengthy sentences for non-violent offenses, including drug possession. Liners says that addicts, alcoholics and people suffering from mental disorders belong in treatment rather than jail.

Reforming the nation’s sentencing laws and incarceration policies has bipartisan support. High-profile conservative leaders who support prison reform include anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, conservative pundit Bill Bennett and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. They agree with liberals that the current system is unnecessarily expensive, both to taxpayers and society. 

Norquist, who’s famous for asking political candidates to sign a “no new taxes” pledge, came to Madison in April to urge Wisconsin’s GOP lawmakers to end the state’s truth in sentencing laws.

According to madison.com, Norquist told his audience that prison reforms in Texas not only reduced incarceration rates, but also failed to create a voter backlash against the elected officials who supported them. Fear of being branded “soft on crime” prevents many elected officials, particularly on the political right, from getting behind prison reform.

In 2013, WISDOM launched a campaign in Wisconsin to cut the state’s 22,000 prison population in half. Given that each prisoner costs taxpayers about $35,000 per year, reducing the prison population by 11,000 would save $38.5 million annually, although there would have to be increased funding for counseling and supervision.

WIDSOM’s campaign, titled “11 x 15,” sought to bring Wisconsin’s prison population closer to that of Minnesota, which is demographically very similar to Wisconsin, but which had a prison population of 10,289 in 2013.

Although WISDOM failed to achieve its goal, Stedman says it raised awareness of the problem of ridiculously long sentences for non-violent offenders. Prison reform groups this year won a budget increase of from $1 million to $2.5 million annually for drug treatment programs — a small step in the right direction, but a step forward nonetheless, Stedman says. 

WISDOM is also promoting Treatment Alternative Diversion programs as a substitute for imprisoning non-violent drug offenders. TAD programs take people who are coming into or returning to the criminal justice system and divert them into community-based treatment programs for alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness. A model program in Eau Claire features four treatment courts — Drug, Alternatives to Incarcerating Mothers, Mental Health and Chippewa Valley Veterans — “as a diversion alternative for individuals facing jail or prison time as a result of pending charges or potential probation revocation,” according to the Eau Claire County website.

Stedman says the approach uses a spectrum of evidence-based strategies, and it has kept families together and reduced recidivism rates, among other benefits.

“If we could fully fund TADS, the impact would be huge,” Stedman says.

Taking 17-year-olds out of the adult prison population and putting them into juvenile detention facilities would also ease the pressure on Wisconsin prisons, according to WISDOM. A robust transitional jobs program would help reduce the reincarceration rate by supporting ex-inmates in successfully re-entering society.

State Rep. Mandela Barnes, D-11th District, introduced a bill on April 20 that would decriminalize possession of marijuana in amounts of 25 grams or less. People caught with small amounts of the drug would be fined as opposed to imprisoned. 

Several Democratic legislators are working on a bill that would reduce the amount of time parolees can be reincarcerated for minor rule violations.

“It’s something that we all agree we have to delve into but the actual bill has not been introduced,” says state Rep. David Bowen, D-10th District. “Things are just getting underway. We’ll attempt to standardize (the revocation process), but we want to have some flexibility. You have so many moving parts.”

State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-76th District, says, “There seems to be some momentum on both sides of the aisle to do something” to end mass incarceration in the state. She said a recent motion would have brought in people from the Department of Corrections to give a presentation on people who are eligible for parole but it hasn’t yet happened.

Taylor says of the many correction reforms lawmakers are looking at, there’s one in particular that stands out.

“They have to look at the racial disparity,” she says. “People of color do not do more drugs and they’re policed more for drugs. We need to look at the policies that treat people unfairly, and it starts with the drug crimes.”