A New York Times award-winning reporter, a UW-Madison graduate and a UW-Madison professor rethought the connection between mass incarceration and race on a panel Tuesday.
The panel’s various professional backgrounds diversified the discussion and perspectives on the weaknesses of our current American justice system; New York Times reporter Yamiche Alcindor was joined by UW-Madison sociology Professor Mike Massoglia and Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm.
Massoglia discussed his belief that the justice system has been “the most defining system of the past thirty years.”
He shared statistics on the growth of mass incarceration rates, and analyzed how incarceration rates have continued to increase although violent crime rates have gone down. He also criticized both national and local incarceration statistics.
“Rates of incarceration are about 6 times what they were in 1980,” Massoglia said. “Wisconsin is one of the worst states in incarceration, and Dane County may be one of the most problematic counties.”
Alcindor took a different approach to addressing the same issue by reflecting on her personal experiences as a reporter, and said they have affected her views on the matter. She has covered multiple stories on police conflict during recent years. When covering these cases, she said she finds it important to be aware of race’s role in the justice system.
She said she also finds it important to cover the repercussions and consequences of the killings, especially the people most acutely affected by the violence.
“What are the consequences?” Alcindor asked. “When someone is killed by the police, what happens to the children around them?”
Alcindor stressed how race played a key role in the presidential election.
“There is no way to talk about this election without saying that race played a huge role in it,” Alcindor said.
Unlike Alcindor’s analysis, which focused on her recent experiences, Chisholm chose to go back in history in order to understand the current state of the justice system. He began by returning to the Presidential Commission on Crime.
Chisholm said this gathering, which began in 1966, “set the template and intellectual framework for how problems will be solved in criminal justice system.”
He said he hopes the current political climate gives us an opportunity to strive for positive change in the biases and flaws of the justice system that have been rooted in America’s history for decades.
“If now is the equivalent of 1966, let’s take the opportunity to get it right,” Chisholm said.