Thursday, February 07, 2008

Wis. Commission On Sentencing Disparities

The "Governor's Commission On Reducing Racial Disparities In The Wisconsin Justice System" has released its "findings" and recommendations (1.). Although Marquette University's Professor (Political Science) John McAdams appears to find that there is no harm in it and that it may do some good (2.), I have some essential problems with that report as based on my 34-years of professional experience (Survival?) with Wisconsin's Department of Corrections AND some very sound education in the scientific method provided within the UW system.

1. Notwithstanding the lack of any general condemnation of Wisconsin's sentencing patterns on the basis of overt racial discrimination, both the title of the commission and the lack of any real attention to individual choices made by criminals leads to the "perceived" conclusion that race was a factor in sentencing.
2. Among the factors not stressed (But should have been so emphasized) by the Commission were the following often considered, as they should be, in imposing sentences: Harm done to the victim(s) in terms of actual physical/economic/psychological injuries; The harm done to the "common good" of the community by the instant offenses and prior violations of the Law; The Prior criminal record and offense pattern of the offender as a predictor of potential to repeat the causing of such injuries/harm to the community and individuals; The experience of success or failure as to prior educational/treatment programs and periods of correctional supervision; Positive or negative employment history; And, like predictive factors.
3. The report supported a variety of "programs" (eg "Wraparound", Boys/Girls
Clubs) without providing or asking for scientific (ie Reliable and valid as based on experimental-vs-control group studies OR sound multi-factor analysis) to demonstrate that the time-and-money invested in such are effective and cost-effective.
4. The report used such terms as "cultural competency" as are not defined and, perhaps, semantically empty of meaning.
5. I ended up with a "feeling" that this commission, not finding any pattern of racial discrimination as such, felt obliged to conclude that "something" was wrong with the communities of Wisconsin as to sentencing and that "something" should be done.

All-in-all a great deal of money and time has been expended to yield a "the horse may learn to sing" (3.) outcome. I suggest that the money and effort would have been better applied to determining which of the Department of Corrections, Children's Court, school systems and like agencies' programs are effective and cost effective in producing the socially sought results.

(1.) Report:
Commission Website:

(2.) Blog: Marquette Warrior
Post: Commission on Reducing Racial Disparities in the Wisconsin Justice System: Report Not So Bad

(3.) In "days-of-yore" a man was condemned to execution by his king and shouted out, "Spare me, I can make your horse sing!"; The king then giving him a year to do so or be even more painfully killed. His cell mate asked him why he did such a foolish thing, to which our anti-hero stated: "In a year I might die OR the King might die OR maybe the horse will learn to sing".

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