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Pamela Oliver
Sociology Dept
1180 Observatory Dr. Madison, Wisconsin



Professor Pamela Oliver

Department of Sociology


Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice

Wisconsin Governor's Commission to Reduce Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice (off site link)
Doing Public Sociology Linking crime control to social movements Private Prison Project

Note: If you download information from this web site or find it useful, I'd appreciate your sending me an email telling me about it.

Sample graphs from our imprisonment trends files

US imprisonment rates are much higher than the rest of the world, and within the US,  African Americans are imprisoned at least eight times as often as European Americans, while American Indians and Hispanics are imprisoned at two to three times the European American rate.  (Asian American incarceration rates are generally lower than European American rates.) About a third of African American men are under the supervision of the criminal justice system, and about 12% of African American men in their 20s and 30s are incarcerated. These astronomical incarceration rates have huge social and economic consequences for black women, black children, and black communities. They are not a legacy of Jim Crow, but are a result of policies implemented since the mid-1970s which created exponential growth in incarceration between 1975 and 2000. This growth was not due to growing crime rates, but to greater use of incarceration for lesser offenses and drug offenses. High incarceration rates ruin people's lives and make the problem worse, by making it harder for young people who have done wrong to be rehabilitated, find jobs, and become productive members of society. Children whose parents are sent to prison are especially harmed by these policies.

We have been doing a lot of analysis of the patterns of racial disparities in Wisconsin and the US as a whole. Reports, spreadsheets, and graphic displays are posted on this site for the purpose of providing information to the public. Copyright is held by the University of Wisconsin. Materials may be freely reproduced for use by the general public and nonprofit groups or educational institutions as long as credit is given to the author. This web site also includes links to reports, statistical resources, and advocacy groups.

This research has been funded by the University of Wisconsin's Institute for Research on Poverty and the National Science Foundation grant SPS0136833. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or the Institute for Research on Poverty.

The Wisconsin Racial Disparities Project

We are using public data to compare imprisonment and arrest rates for different racial groups, separating these rates by type of crime.  We have done some analyses comparing US states to each other, and have done a detailed county-level analysis of Wisconsin. Major findings:   

  • Wisconsin has very high black prison admission rates which rose steadily through the 1990s, while Wisconsin's white incarceration rates rose modestly. Graphic Display
  • A major source of the rise is increased probation and parole revocations, which rose for both races but more rapidly for blacks. Graphic Display
  • Whites are primarily sentenced to prison for violent offenses and white prison admissions for violent offenses grew in the 1990s, while drug sentences actually declined somewhat. Graphic Display.
  • By the late 1990s, most black new prison sentences were for drug offenses. Black sentences for drug offenses rose in the 1990s while sentences for serious crimes declined. Graphic Display

Reports About Wisconsin

We are using public data to compare imprisonment and arrest rates for different racial groups, separating these rates by type of crime.  We have done some analyses comparing US states to each other, and have done a detailed county-level analysis of Wisconsin.

  1. New. Dane County in the 2000s.
    1. In 2006, an estimated 32% of Black men ages 18-54 were under the supervision of the Department of Corrections, 10% incarcerated and 22% under community supervision. The peak rate was for ages 25-29: an estimated 47% of Dane County's Black men aged 25-29 were under supervision, 15% in prison and another 32% on probation or parole or extended supervision. Tables of race X sex X age rates of imprisonment and correctional supervision.
    2. PDF copy of slides 2 to a page presented to Dane County Task Force on Racial Disparities January 29 2009.
  2. PowerPoint presentations. These are big files with lots of graphs which I update periodically. Note that the imprisonment data generally ends in the late 1990s (Wisconsin vs national) or the early 2000s (Wisconsin DOC). NOTE: PowerPoint files require the PowerPoint software on your computer to work. PDF files can be read with the Adobe Acrobat Reader, which can be downloaded for free from their web site.
    1. Presentation October 2008 to Dane County Racism Summit (and Dane County Judges). Contains new graphs of Wisconsin & Dane County using DOC data through 2006. PDF file of slides 6 to a page. (file size ~ 3MB)
    2. General presentation. Compared to Wisconsin Sentencing Commission presentation of 4/30/04, updated April 2007 to add more comparisons between Wisconsin & the US in the 1980s and 1990s. PowerPoint File. (file size ~ 2.6 MB) This one includes crime trends and drug use graphs as well as suggestions about "what is to be done"
    3. County comparisons in prison admissions 1990-2002.. PowerPoint File
    4. Presentation to Governor's Commission on Racial Disparities May 22, 2007. PowerPoint File. This overlaps a lot with the general presentation. Differs in omitting slides on crime & drug use & my policy suggestions and in adding slides summarizing the Sentencing Commission report on sentencing disparities and in summaries of arrests rate disparities & prison/arrest ratios for 1997-1999; also a few slides on the criminal justice process and where data are & suggestions for where data are needed.
    5. Presentation to Wisconsin Sentencing Commission April 30, 2004. This presentation includes updated graphs on Wisconsin prison admissions through 2003. And also includes comparisons between counties 1990-2003 (that is, includes item B above)
      1. PowerPoint presentation. NOTE: This is a BIG FILE, about 4.5MB.
      2. PDF file, 4 slides per page, landscape. This needs to print in color for the graphics to be legible. File is about 450 KB (about 1/10th the size of the PowerPoint file).
    6. PDF File of the slide shots for my Wisconsin disparities presentation. Includes information on national & state imprisonment trends, national drug use data, and a special section on disparities by age. Wisconsin trends through 2003.
    7. Presentation on Dane County Returning Prisoners from the 1990s. This presentation includes the slide I presented at the Sentencing Commission showing returns to prison over time.
      1. PowerPoint presentation.
      2. PDF file, 4 slides per page, landscape. Needs to print in color.
    8. PowerPoint slide show with basic facts about escalating imprisonment in US, Wisconsin, and Dane & Milwaukee Counties. Data through 1999 only
      1. Subset of slides with focus on Madison & Dane County. PowerPoint slides Requires PowerPoint program to run. File size about 1.5 MB
      2. Slide show which emphasizes comparisons between counties in imprisonment + some "talking points" about what we can do. PowerPoint slides. File size is about 3 MB
    9. PowerPoint presentation to the Governor's Juvenile Justice Commission's Disproportionate Minority Confinement conference on February 4, 2002. Uses data through 1999. This is a very long slide show with a couple of hundred slides. Requires the PowerPoint software. It is broken into three parts.
      1. Part 1: Overview and Wisconsin imprisonment patterns.
      2. Part 2: Comparing Wisconsin's counties in black and white imprisonment. Compares Milwaukee, Dane, Racine, Kenosha, Rock, and Waukesha counties, and the rest of Wisconsin.
      3. Part 3: County arrest statistics and conclusions.
  3. Study of employment discrimination in Milwaukee against persons with criminal records which shows racial bias as well. This is the study I show in my slide show, which I did not do but was done by Devah Pager, now a professsor at Princeton University. The paper has been published in the American Journal of Sociology, Volume 108 Number 5 (March 2003): 937–75. Link on her web site to a copy of this publication
  4. Spreadsheets with data and graphs
    1. Wisconsin Prison Admissions 1990-1999 by race & county. This is a web page with links to spreadsheets & technical analysis notes underlying other summaries and PowerPoint presentations for 1990-1999.
    2. Gender & Race trends in imprisonment. This is an Excel spreadshet with graphics generated by Dana Garbarski using the Wisconsin Dept of Corrections data through 2003.
  5. "Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice: Madison and Dane County in Context." Institute for Research on Poverty Working Paper DP 1257-02. 2002. 48 pp. This is a report with embedded graphs. PDF copy of this report. Link to IRP download site for this and other reports.
  6. "Some Facts About Race and Prison in Wisconsin" Forum article published in Wisconsin State Journal May 26, 2002. Companion piece "What Can We Do About Race, Crime, and Imprisonment?" by Helene Nelson published in the same issue.
  7. Handout for Madison Urban Ministry forum on Community Policing March 19, 2002.
  8. Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice: Madison and Dane County in Context. An outline report formatted as an Adobe Acrobat file so it can be downloaded and printed. Many graphics show how Wisconsin compares to the US and how Madison & Dane County compare to Wisconsin and Milwaukee County. Originally presented to the mayor on July 10, 2001, this version revised in Septemer 2001 contains some corrections and additions. [A revision with a few corrections, better formatting, and more textual explanation is in process and will be posted soon.]
  9. Summary of Wisconsin & Wisconsin county imprisonment patterns relative to the "drug war." Prepared for CJAC conference in Milwaukee November 1, 2001.
  10. Graphs and charts on Racial Disparities. Adobe Acrobat (PDF) color printout of PowerPoint slides, printed 4 to a page.
  11. Summary of Dane County black arrest & imprisonment patterns with emphasis on young offenders. (Adobe Acrobat file)
  12. Racial Disparities in Imprisonment in Wisconsin  Written in 2000. Arrest and new imprisonment rates for blacks and whites by offense category; imprisonment rates by county and sex for blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, and American Indians.  Data are for 1996 and are from the National Corrections Reporting Program. The report is an Adobe Acrobat file with tables in the appendix. 
  13. Uniform Crime Reports arrests of juveniles and adults in Dane County 1995, by race (converted to rates per 100,000 using 1995 Census estimates).  MS Word file. 
  14. Handouts from the Peace-Filled Community forum March 20, 2001. Includes black and white copies of figures about Wisconsin from  slide show + Dane County and Milwaukee County new imprisonments by race and offense, 1996.    MS Word file with lots of graphics.
  15. Overview of Juvenile Justice Issues in Dane County, Wisconsin  Adobe Acrobat file.
  16. Racial Disparities in Imprisonment.  Published in Money Educations and Prison newsletter and The Madison Times  Adobe Acrobat file. HTML file

Reports About the US as a Whole and Theoretical Implications

  1. "The Effect of Black Male Imprisonment on Black Child Poverty." Pamela Oliver, Gary Sandefur, Jessica Jakubowski, and James E. Yocom. Presented at the American Sociological Association August 13, 2005. We find that high Black male imprisonment contributes to high Black child poverty several years later. There are two mechanisms. The first is lower family earnings, especially in two-parent less-educated families, which is presumably due to the reduction in earnings of men with prison records. The second is more complex: high Black male imprisonment is associated with a rise over time in the proportion of Black children living with mothers who have not graduated from high school; this rise occurs despite an overall rise in Black mothers' education and a positive association between Black male imprisonment and the proportion of children living with mothers who are married college graduates. Due to file sizes, the report and the tables are in two files. Report text as PDF file Tables as PDF file
  2. "Explaining State Black Imprisonment Rates 1983-1999." Pamela E. Oliver and James E. Yocom. Multivariate analysis. Presented at the American Sociological Association August 15, 2004. Two PDF format files: 1)Text 2) Tables & Figures
  3. "Have High Black Imprisonment Rates Contributed to African American Child Poverty? Pamela Oliver, Gary Sandefur, Jessica Jakubowski, and James E. Yocom. Presented at the Population Association of America, April 2, 2004. PDF file
  4. "Racial disparities in imprisonment: Some basic information" IRP Focus 21 (3) pp. 28-31 Spring 2001. IRP dowload site (for other Focus articles)
  5. Click here for spreadsheets showing many imprisonment trends by race and offense for 34 US states 1983-1999.
  6. Tables of State-Level Black and White Arrest and New Imprisonment Rates and Disparity Ratios for 1996. Data spources are National Corrections Reporting Program and Uniform Crime Reports for 37 states participating in both programs.  Acrobat PDF File.   Microsoft Excel spreadsheet file
  7. A graphical model of the relation among poverty, politics, crime, and imprisonment  Adobe Acrobat file. It is important to remember that imprisonment does not directly reflect crime, but also political decisions, and that imprisonment feeds back into poverty and, thus, into the causes of crime.
  8. Computation table decomposing imprisonment into components due to arrest and prison/arrest ratios. MS Word  or WordPerfect  or Adobe Acrobat
  9. Research Proposal A scaled-down version of this project has been awarded funding by the National Science Foundation.
  10. Book in progress: Repressive Injustice: Political and Social Processes in the Massive Incarceration of African Americans, Pamela E. Oliver and James E. Yocom, Rose Monograph Series.

Local Justice Issues Links

Some Important Reports 

(Other Activism/Policy Links)


Questions or Comments? Email Oliver -at- ssc -dot- wisc -dot- edu. Last updated June 5, 2012 © University of Wisconsin.