RACINE — Racine Women for Racial Justice announced recently they have launched their Justice Initiative to challenge the vastly different outcomes between people of color and their peers in the criminal justice system.
Kelly Scroggins-Powell, the executive director of RWRJ, introduced the need for these initiatives by outlining the racial disparities that led to the over-incarceration of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) people.
Researched published by The Sentencing Project concluded that black people are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate that is five times higher than their white peers. Further, Wisconsin was one of five states where the incarceration rate of black people was closer to ten times the rate of their white peers.
The focus of the RWRJ Justice Initiative will be to fill in the gaps in services experienced by the BIPOC community who may lack the resources to successfully navigate the criminal justice system.
The initiative will have two focus points: support teams and funds.
The plan is to organize three support teams: a response team, a court and services team, and a policy and advocacy team.
The work of the response team was shown in the public support given to the two families whose loved ones died within days of each other in the Racine County Jail.
The court services team will meet a variety of needs, including working with professionals to determine where the disparities are in addition to working directly with defendants to meet pre-trial and post-trial needs.
Laura Sumner Coon, the Justice Initiative chairperson, said some defendants lack support outside of the criminal justice system and need people to coach them about what they might endure.
“During trial, things like getting a haircut, getting clothes for trial, those kinds of things that maybe people of privilege don’t think about, but make a difference,” Coon said.
If the defendant has family, they also could use support through the process, she said. As an example, people new to the justice system may not understand the process and would benefit from having someone to answer questions and show up to court with them.
People also need support following incarceration for help in connecting to education, training, and/or work possibilities.
Lastly, the policy and advocacy team will be learning about policy, practices, county budgets and their interactions, which could lead to greater advocacy.
“As we learn about the experiences of BIPOC people in our community, and as we discover what we think are disparities, we will want to examine them further,” Coon said explaining there will be cases where the RWRJ will want to be speaking out about.
Additionally, RWRJ will be fundraising on behalf of those in the criminal justice system, Scroggins-Powell said.
It can be difficult for people without any means to pay off court fees and fines – tying individuals to the system.
The RWRJ highlighted two prominent local cases and the disparities represented in those cases.
Scroggins-Powell explained the cases represent the injustices that are so frequently seen in the Racine community that BIPOC people experience.
The first example was the death of Malcolm James in the Racine County Jail over the Memorial Day weekend.
James was taken into custody during a mental health crisis.
This case was important, Scroggins-Powell said, because it highlighted the need for changes to the way those suffering from mental health needs are treated, with special reference to how they are treated in the jail.
RWRJ responded with support for the family of Malcolm James, who have been critical of the lack of communication between themselves and the investigators on the case.
Scroggins-Powell went on to talk about the Deandre McCollum case and to note there has been almost no public notice of the lawsuit in any media outlet; therefore, the public has been largely unaware that the incident occurred.
McCollum filed a federal lawsuit earlier this year against Deputy Edward Drewitz, of the Racine County Sheriff’s Office, alleging he used excessive force with a K-9 during the apprehension of McCollum.
Drewitz’s bodycam showed McCollum being bitten repeatedly — even after he surrendered and was handcuffed.
Because the public is largely unaware of the case, the RWRJ has taken it upon themselves to inform the public.