State News

Black legislators decry appointments to prison task force

State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, came under fire Wednesday only appointing white lawmakers to a task force that will access the state’s prison system.

Image By: Katie Scheidt

Four black Democratic legislators wrote a letter to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, in response to appointing only white men to a task force that will study the efficacy of Wisconsin prisons. 

The task force was created to analyze Wisconsin’s need for a new prison amid recent prison incidents involving overpopulation, neglect and violence.

The letter, signed by Democratic representatives from Milwaukee, David Crowley, Jason Fields, David Bowen and Leon Young, requests Vos to reconsider his nominations in order to add at least one black member to the task force.

“In Milwaukee County over half of African American males in their 30s have served time in state prison,” the letter said. “Given the high level of racial inequality that is found in the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, it is imperative that any task force created to study the feasibility or necessity of new prisons being built have African American representation.”

The panel, armed with a $600,000 budget, will be comprised of representatives chosen by Vos, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Gov. Scott Walker.

Vos’s appointments included no Democrats, instead selecting three Republicans, Reps. Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh, Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, and David Steffen, R-Green Bay to the task force.

The four Democrats, referencing the 2010 U.S. Census, stated Wisconsin has the highest black male incarceration rate in the United States. State Department of Corrections data observed Wisconsin adult prisons were designed to hold about 16,500 inmates. The prisons currently hold about 23,000 inmates.

The need for the task force stems from the recent criticism of the state’s juvenile prisons Lincoln Hills and Cooper Lake Schools, according to Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh. Hintz claims that Vos purposefully chose to omit Democrats from the task force in order to avoid negative attention surrounding current GOP policies in Wisconsin prisons.

Vos’s appointments were based on legislators who “stepped forward” to be a part of the task force, spokesperson Kit Beyer told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In the Senate, Fitzgerald’s selections consist of two white Republican male legislators but include state Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, a black woman.

Walker has not yet announced his appointments. 

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