Upcoming forums to discuss high incarceration rate of African American men in state

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There are two events to be held to discuss the issues surrounding incarceration in Wisconsin — one by Justice Overcoming Borders (JOB) this Thursday and a luncheon held at Emmanuel Baptist Church on Sept. 27.

The first meeting to discuss the issues of Wisconsin’s prisoners will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Beloit Public Library by JOB. Specific topics include: Treatment Alternatives and Diversion (TAD); in-prison issues; sentencing issues and Post Release issues. Areas of solitary confinement and torture, old-law prisoners and parole revocation, GPS malfunctioning, and compassionate release will also be addressed.

JOB is a faith-based organization whose members come from area churches, social service organizations and educational institutions — any citizens concerned with justice issues in the area and state. David Liners, executive director of WISDOM, will help lead the group. WISDOM is a grassroots organization, comprised mostly of religious congregations of many denominations, which works to have a common voice on issues of social justice.

“These issues affect us all whether we realize it or not,” said Ruth Kolpack, president of JOB, “Work needs to be done to reduce the number of nonviolent prisoners and treatment obtained for those in need.”

JOB Beloit had its first event on incarceration in February at Beloit College, followed by an event on the July 29.

“We want our local people to get involved,” Kolpack said.

For more information about JOB or WISDOM people can contact Kolpack at 608-362-7356.

The “Mass Incarceration Forum: A Travesty in Wisconsin” will be held from 1-3 p.m. Sept. 27 at Emmanuel Baptist Church, 1151 E. Grand Ave. The luncheon event costs $15 per person, or $120 for a table of eight. People can pay at the door, or call ahead for a table or to buy a ticket.

Data from the 2010 Census showed Wisconsin had the highest percentage of incarcerated black men in the nation. One out of every eight black men of working age was behind bars at some point in their lives, according to a 2013 report from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute.

The report found the incarceration rate of African American men in Wisconsin is nearly double the national average of 6.7 percent, or one in 15.

“...Among the most critical workforce issues facing Wisconsin are governmental policies and practices leading to mass incarceration of African American men and suspensions of driving privileges to low-income adults...,” the report stated.

Forty percent of the African American males from Milwaukee County incarcerated since 1990 were drug offenders.

The upcoming forum will discuss the devastating effects of so many nonviolent offenders caught up in the prison system.

At the forum Emma Harrell will speak about probation and parole; Kurt Handrich will discuss the “11x15 campaign” a statewide campaign to decrease Wisconsin’s prison population to 11,000 by the end of 2015, and the “Ban the Box” campaign which calls for removing the question and check box, “Have you been convicted by a court?” from applications for employment, housing, public benefits, insurance, loans and other services. The question can prevent employment and be discriminatory.

Neal Dupree will speak about JOB and drug court, Tammie King will discuss how the incarceration rates affect African American women and Dr. Jeffrey Lewis will address school and truancy.

The upcoming forum will feature commentary from Bethel A.M.E. Pastor Brenda Atlas who graduated in May with a Master’s of Divinity from Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio. Her thesis was titled “Mass Incarceration in Wisconsin.”

One of the successful programs, Atlas said, is the Jobs for Fathers program used in Beloit which helps transition men coming out of jail or prison into the workforce.

The Jobs for Fathers program in Beloit meets every Saturday and Tuesday for eight weeks at Bethel A.M.E. It received a $150,000 grant from the Wisconsin Partnership Program and UW School of Medicine and help to provide curriculum which assists with interview skills, resume writing, training and spirituality. The first year of the two-year grant was completed in July.

People can purchase tickets for the forum from Bethel A.M.E. Pastor Brenda Atlas at 608-346-0249; Pearlie Jackson at 608-207-9630; Gary and Debra Vance at 608-312-2064 or 608-302-1005; or Kelly Jackson 608-362-2052.

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