AP NEWS

Tony Evers, in touting marijuana proposal, cites faulty statistic

February 24, 2019

Gov. Tony Evers is walking back an incorrect statistic he cited earlier this week to push his sweeping marijuana plan.

Evers, in a statement and tweet, said “drug-related crimes account for as many as 75-85 percent of all inmates in our prisons” when rolling out his proposal to decriminalize marijuana and legalize it for medical conditions.

That figure is far from correct, and Evers’ staff Friday admitted to making the mistake.

Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said Evers’ staffers cited the statistic from a WUWM radio article from 2013 about Wisconsin’s black male incarceration rate. Baldauff said staffers after further investigation found the statistic to be unsubstantiated.

WUWM said it’s investigating the possible inaccuracy.

Baldauff said staffers have removed the erroneous statistic from Evers’ news release online and noted the inaccuracy. They have also deleted the tweet, which will be archived for the public record.

“However, I would add that it is important to not let this error overshadow the broader point — which is that there is ample data that supports the disparate treatment and over-incarceration of black folks in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system,” Baldauff said.

Baldauff did not provide a replacement statistic; however, she pointed to a 2018 Wisconsin Justice Initiative article showing 86 percent of people charged with felony second-offense marijuana possession in 2015 and 2016 were African-American.

A Department of Corrections study reviewing prison admissions between 2000 and 2016 shows offenses for marijuana accounted for anywhere between 5.9 and 8.5 percent of total prison admissions in Wisconsin. Drug offenses in general accounted for between 21.2 and 27.8 percent of all state prison admissions over those years.

Evers in his statement earlier in the week had used the faulty statistic to bolster his argument that decriminalizing marijuana could help address social and racial injustice, lamenting the fact that Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate for black men in the country.

A separate UW-Milwaukee study from 2013 shows 40 percent of African-American males from Milwaukee County incarcerated since 1990 were drug offenders and that as drug offenses increased between 2002 and 2005, African-American men had 11 to 12 times as many drug-related prison admissions as white men.

The study reports that since 1990, African-American males accounted for about 82 percent of DOC imprisonments of Milwaukee County males with drug offenses.