According to a new report on the confinement of juvenile offenders, a black kid's chances of being locked up in an institution in Wisconsin are 18 times that of a white kid - the third-highest racial gap in the nation. The National Council on Crime and Delinquency, based in Oakland, Calif., issued the report, which featured an even scarier statistic: Wisconsin leads the nation in putting African-American kids in adult prisons.
Why is Wisconsin so extreme? After all, it's not extreme in crime. Even Milwaukee, where most of the state's African-Americans live, features proportionately less crime than cities where black kids aren't locked up so much.
Governor Doyle says he will appoint a commission to investigate. The editors suggest some questions.
How much of that gap comes from a difference in the commission of crime? How much from other factors? And what are those factors? Do blacks, say, handle drugs more than whites? Or do white drug users get treatment and black drug users prison?
The commission, they say, should pursue these questions wherever they might lead.
Whatever the answers - whether African-Americans do more time because they do more crime or because they are singled out for prosecution - the task force must come up with solutions for curbing imprisonment among black men.
Does this mean that the work of E. Michael McCann, Milwaukee County District Attorney from 1968 to 2006, will come under scrutiny? I have to wonder.