Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What about African American victims of crime?

Governor Doyle, concerned about the number of African Americans currently serving time in prison or else having had brushes with the law, is appointing "a panel to study the high rates of incarceration among blacks in Wisconsin."

I think there is some room to examine the problems of the African American prison population and bettering their conditions. In addition to warehousing criminals, we should be making better efforts to reform criminals, possibly converting more of them into productive citizens.

But on the other hand, what always strikes me about these proposals for studies is that they tend to focus on the numbers in prison without looking at the impact of the behavior of those in prison.

Yes, there are a disproportionate number of African Americans in prison, compared to the population as a whole. But there are also a disproportionate number of African American victims of crime, and crime disproportionately occurs in African American neighborhoods. And that crime contributes to a culture of lawlessness and social decay. Crime hinders economic development, threatens our education system, and places in danger the social cohesion of a community.

Crime is both a cause and a symptom of the problems in the African American community. It is not the only cause, but if we expect a better living for African Americans in Wisconsin, we must first restore order where they live. That may mean in the short term even more young African Americans serving time in prison.

It is a harsh reality to face, but far better to honestly see the direct impact of violent crime in a community than to pretend it will just go away with a few more bookmobiles and midnight basketball leagues.

But if Governor Doyle's panel even hints that it might be looking at shorter sentences for violent criminals, a former prosecutor and state attorney general like Doyle should have the common sense to shut it down.