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Most Black “Neighborhoods” in Wisconsin are Actually Jails, Prisons

by Christopher Zoukis

A 17-year-old has made a startling discovery about Wisconsin: more than half of the state’s black “neighborhoods” are actually jails.

The young researcher, Lew Blank, used the Weldon Cooper Center’s Racial Dot Map and Google Maps to come to this conclusion, and released the results in August 2016. Defining a black neighborhood as “a certain area where the majority of residents are African-American,” Blank found that 31 of the 56 black neighborhoods in Wisconsin were either jails or prisons. He also determined there are 15 cities in the state where the only black neighborhood is a jail.

“And I found out that the places that weren’t jails, were great places to be,” Blank said with a heavy dose of sarcasm. “Homeless shelters, Section 8 housing (subsidized), food deserts, etc.”

Blank’s research added important context to the discourse on racial disparities and incarceration in the United States. It also exposed a little-known practice known as “prison gerrymandering,” whereby localities are able to obtain federal funding based on the racial makeup of their “neighborhoods” – i.e., jail populations. [See: PLN, Dec. 2012, p.1].

Blank became interested in social and racial justice after attending Young, Gifted and Black Coalition protests. Speaking about the conclusions drawn by his research, he vilified the negative reactions that often accompany attempts by blacks to point out injustice and racism in our nation’s justice system.

“Despite this terrible epidemic, it seems that whenever people try to speak out against it, they are met with backlash and apathy,” said Blank. “Whenever people failed by a racially disparate economic system, a business-as-usual governmental system, and a rooted-in-slavery police system demand much-needed, life-or-death systemic changes by marching in the streets and chanting ‘Black Lives Matter,’ they are somehow met with disdain for simply fighting for their freedom and their right to self-determination.”

Blank noted that 41% of the prisoners in Wisconsin jails are black, even though blacks make up only 6% of the state’s general population. “This is completely disproportional to the crime rate and drug usage rate,” he said, “which has been statistically proven to be near-equal” with respect to race. 


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