Lawmaker says WI criminal law unfairly impacts minorities

MADISON (WITI) -- Does Wisconsin criminal law unfairly impact black men? One state lawmaker says the evidence is clear, and she wants the racial impact of any new policy to be considered before it becomes law -- but not everyone is on board.

Milwaukee father Marshall Washington says the criminal justice system in Wisconsin is weighted against black men.

"Everytime I see a cop car, there's a black person in the back of the cop car," Washington said.

What Washington says he sees in his neighborhood is reflected in the data.

A recent UW-Milwaukee study found that Wisconsin -- a state with a black population of only 6.5% has the highest percentage of incarcerated black men in the country.

"It's crazy," Washington said.

One in eight black men of working age are in state prisons or jails. That's almost 13% -- nearly twice the national average.

"It has repercussions for our families, for society, for jobs -- for so many different things," Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Shorewood) said.

Rep. Pasch is proposing a way to address Wisconsin's high rate of racial disparity in incarceration -- by requiring, for any criminal bill, a statement showing the impact of the bill on members of racial minority groups.

"There needs to be racial impact study on bills related to criminal justice and penalties," Rep. Pasch said.

She says her idea is similar to fiscal or environmental impact statements -- done on most other laws.

They would provide legislators with a statistical analysis of the projected impact that policy changes could have on minority groups.

"I certainly do not believe  that every bill that goes through should have some kind of racial analysis to see how it impacts one specific group. I want to see how it impacts the entire state of Wisconsin. Having things break down on racial lines in some ways I think is part of the problem. I prefer a color blind society where we say that laws should be applied fairly," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said.

Vos says he will review the bill, but says laws should be applied equally.

"If somebody commits a crime, they should go to jail. I don't care if they're black or white," Vos said.

Iowa, Connecticut and Oregon all have similar laws. If Wisconsin were to pass the "racial impact statement" requirement, it would become the fourth state in the nation to do so.