Absent-minded professor left his proof in his other pants

I have a sense this is like walking into a minefield, but here we go:

John McAdams, the professor who holds the endowed Wingnut Chair at Marquette University, has gotten on the Wisconsin Wingosphere, with his “report” on a hearing held by the

As McAdams the hearing – and probably the commission itself – was a farce.

Here they are, holding a hearing when they already think there is racial disparity in the system, without even waiting for McAdams’s opinion.

And when he gives his apparently compelling testimony:

We rattled off various analyses we have done, all of which show that the “disproportionate” incarceration of blacks in Wisconsin is the result of the fact that blacks disproportionately commit crimes.

they didn’t believe him.

In response, Spencer Coggs asked us “are you saying that blacks commit crimes at a greater rate than whites, as opposed to being stopped more often by police?”

We responded “yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.”

Coggs then responded that “that’s not what the studies show.”

Too dumbfounded to produce a proper response (such as “you’re f**kin’ idiot!”) we just said “you’re wrong.” And further, “have you looked at data on victimization? Have you looked at those maps what show where crime happens most?” Coggs looked embarrassed, and dismissed us politely.

McAdams has scored some points at the expense of Coggs, the State Senator who co-chairs the commission.

I don’t doubt that studies show the crime rate among the black population is higher than that of the white population. There are a lot of underlying reasons for that – poverty, lack of education, absence of parental supervision or role modeling, and a whole long list of other factors that we all chew over regularly.

But I was curious to know just what the “various analyses” that McAdams “rattled off” at the hearing, since he didn’t cite any statistics in his lengthy post nor provide any links to such studies.

So I e-mailed him to ask for a copy of his testimony or links to the studies he discussed.

His reply:

I'm on vacation, and don't have time at the moment to give you a rundown.

The article will be out in the Fall Wisconsin Interest. Bill Miller doesn't want me to circulate the whole thing before it appears.

I will write you a summary when I get back.

In the meantime, you can check out:

It's about racial disparity and the death penalty.

P.S. You are pressing the Commission about what analyses they have that show discrimination, aren't you?

I tried again:

did you submit any written testimony?

i'm looking for something that shows the black crime rate is 10x or more the white crime rate, which would justify and explain the incarceration rates in Wisconsin

i'm not too worried about the death penalty, since we don't have it here. and the commission is just looking at wisconsin.

That brought this response from McAdams:

I did not submit written testimony.

If you want something quick and dirty on the black crime rate, you might check the following:

See page 8.

I can also tell you, from analysis of the Milwaukee Police Department incident reports, that the racial disparity in commission of violent crimes in Milwaukee is 7.99.

Which is the say, a random black person in Milwaukee is about 8 times as likely to commit a violent crime (as per the Uniform Crime Reports definition) as a random white. Of course, young males of all races are more likely to commit crimes than anybody else.

I can add one more thing: whites who are admitted to prison have fewer prior felony offenses than blacks. Translation, whites on average are "less qualified" to be imprisoned than blacks.

The notion that blacks are victims of excess incarceration would imply just the opposite.

Finally, if we look across states, the roughly 10 to 1 disparity ratio is about what we would expect, if we model racial disparity as a function of the percentage of the states black population living in the central city of a Metropolitan Statistical area, percentage of blacks living in poverty, and percentage of whites living in poverty (that latter tending to drive down disparity in imprisonment).

More later.

P.S. You should check me death penalty article anyway. There is a huge racial disparity in who is likely to commit a murder.

The link he offered for a “quick and dirty” look at the black crime rate, takes you to a map showing where Milwaukee homicides occurred in 2005. He keeps returning to homicides, when most people are in prison and jail for much less serious offenses. Drug offenses are at or near the top of the list, but are not even included in the uniform crime reports compiled nationally, unless one of the eight crimes tabulated – homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, theft, auto theft, and arson – is committed in connection with the drug offense.

Many others are being locked up for parole or probation violations, not for commiting new crimes, although their prior record would make blacks “more qualified” for incarceration, in McAdams’s terms. Pamela Oliver, a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin, has done considerable research on the subject, available In an op ed column, she wrote:

There are real disparities in serious crime, but these are not the source of rises in black incarceration… For drug offenses, the black/white disparity for new prison sentences was much higher… .

That is true, she says, although studies show white youths are more likely to use and sell drugs than black youths. There is strong evidence, she says that the drug war was waged against African Americans, which contributed greatly to the disparity in incarceration. There’s a reason, despite McAdams’s protests, that the governor’s commission starts with the belief that there is racial inequity in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system, and that it is because of unequal treatment (call it discrimination, if you prefer), not a disparity in the crime rate between blacks and whites.

Consider: Nationally, in 2006, the ratio of black to white incarceration – the number of people in jail or prison – was 5.6 to 1. A black person had a 2290 in 100,000 chance of being locked up. For whites, it was 412 in 100,000.

But in Wisconsin, a black person is 10.6 times more likely than a white person to be in jail or prison. The numbers in 2005 were 415 whites per 100,000 incarcerated to 4,416 of every 100,000 blacks incarcerated. The white percentage was almost the same as the national average, but the black percentage behind bars was nearly double the national rate. The Wisconsin ratio was the fifth highest of the 50 states. Source: July 2007.

McAdams says a 10:1 black:white ratio is about right, when you factor in how many blacks are living in metropolitan areas, and the amount of poverty. How does that explain why Wisconsin is 5th in the disparity ratio out of 50 states? Do we have more black people living in poverty in cities than Michigan, where its disparity rate is just below the national average? And how does that explain that the rest of the state, according to Oliver, has higher black incarceration rates and higher disparity ratios than Milwaukee? Again, that is especially true for drug imprisonments. It’s even worse for juveniles. In 2002, nationally, five white juveniles per 100,000 were sent to adult prison, while 44 African-Americans per 100,000 suffered the same fate – a rate almost nine times higher for blacks.

But in Wisconsin, that same year, the rates were 8.1 per 100,000 for white juveniles and 154.6 per 100,000 for black juveniles -- 19 times the rate. The disparity is more that double the national disparity, which is bad enough. Source: [Renee Crawford ]

Does McAdams have studies that show the black crime rate is 10.6 times the white rate in Wisconsin?

Or that black juveniles are committing serious crimes at 19 times the rate of white juveniles in Wisconsin?

If he can produce them – and not just theorize or extrapolate them -- we’ll quit complaining about disparity. (We should note, as an aside, that the arrest rate is not the same as the crime rate. We know a larger percentage of blacks are arrested; that’s the question, not the answer.)

But it seems like a pretty sure thing that if such evidence existed, we would have heard it long ago, and would continue to hear it on a daily basis from McAdams and his cohort.

Absent that, it is safe to say that there is something very wrong with Wisconsin’s criminal justice system.

But we knew that. It’s why the commission that McAdams maligns was created in the first place.


August 16, 2007 - 10:36am