Black Democrats ask to join Wisconsin prison task force
MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Four black Democratic legislators Wednesday called on Assembly Speaker Robin Vos to appoint at least one of them to a task force studying whether to build a new prison.
The state budget calls for the creation of a committee to study the Department of Corrections’ long-range facility needs and present a plan to Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature. According to department data, the state’s adult institutions were designed to hold 16,560 inmates. As of Friday, they held 23,397 people.
The budget calls for Walker to appoint an unspecified number of people to the task force. It also empowers Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald to each appoint three lawmakers from their respective houses to the panel.
Walker, Vos and Fitzgerald have yet to publicly announce their picks. Fitzgerald sent a letter to Walker on Nov. 9 saying he had chosen Sens. Van Wanggaard and Dan Feyen, both white Republicans, and Democratic Sen. LaTonya Johnson, a black woman.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel went on to say that Vos has chosen white Republican Reps. Michael Schraa, Mark Born and David Steffen.
Black Democratic Reps. David Bowen, David Crowley, Jason Fields and Leon Young sent Vos a letter Wednesday asking him to appoint at least one of them to the panel.
They said in the letter they deserve to be on the panel because blacks are disproportionally imprisoned in Wisconsin. A University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee study released in 2013 found 12.8 percent of working age black men in Wisconsin were behind bars in prison and jails, the highest rate of black incarceration in the country.
“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 letter said.
Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer didn’t immediately reply to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment. She told the Journal Sentinel that Vos didn’t put a Democrat on the panel because none had asked.
Aaron Collins, a spokesman for Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, told The AP that Vos‘ office told a Hintz aide on Nov. 9 that the speaker was only going to appoint Republicans to the panel.
Bowen sent a letter to Walker on Wednesday asking the governor to appoint him to the committee.
“While I am doubtful that Speaker Vos will reverse his premeditated, partisan decision to leave Black voices out of this process,” Bowen wrote, “I stand ready and willing to serve my community and my state on this task force so we can have an honest conversation about evidence-based, best practices to improve the state’s correctional system.”
Walker spokesman Tom Evenson didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment.