Featured letter Railroading young men into mass incarceration

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I attended a sentencing hearing for three African American students, one being my great nephew.

The crime: They along with a white female student left school during lunch. During their outing, there was sexual activity.

The sentence: The African American students were sentenced to a year in Rock County Jail and 3 years' probation. Just another example of the Rock County court system railroading young African American men into mass incarceration.

Earlier this year, the State of Wisconsin recognized that nonviolent, non-coercive sexual activity at the ages of 15-17 may be wrong but not felonious. In 2017, Senate Bill 325 which deemed this conduct by students as a misdemeanor, did not advance. However, a companion bill, Wisconsin Assembly (AB 414) was adopted and signed by the governor on March 28, 2018 (a sensible change recognizing teenagers' natural sexual curiosity). It puzzles me that this was not considered by Judge Wood after Attorney Jack Hoag presented it as a mitigating factor.

The prosecuting attorney stated that he could have chosen not to charge them with a crime or make a different recommendation (he recommended 3 years prison) but these young men did not, in his opinion, express enough remorse for his liking. Anyone familiar with the Central Park 5? One attorney explained that these boys were unaware that what they had participated in was against the law or that it would change the trajectory of their lives. All defendants apologized for their behavior.

Racism was paramount in this case. Why? On August 30, 2019 in the same courthouse, a 26 year old white male teacher was convicted of continuous sexual contact with a student. His sentence: 90 days in Rock County with Huber privileges. Impartial justice? I think not!

I have lost respect for the justice system in Rock County because it is not applied fairly to people of color. I feel bamboozled into casting a vote for DA David O'Leary. I am disappointed in the pre-sentencing report from the DOC as relayed by Judge Woods. It stated one of the young men had a gang affiliation with a group called "The Money Gang". What was conveniently left out was that the young men were in the third grade. All (except one who was killed in a tragic car crash while attending UW Whitewater last October) are working, productive citizens.

The judge failed to reference in his comments that Walter Knight, a community legend, is this young man's great-grandfather, and his sister is a recent graduate from an HBCU in St. Louis and currently employed in the DA's office. In an attempt to demonize them further, the judge commented on how horrible they were in school. However, their school leaders say just the opposite. One more observation: most "guilty" first time offenders get probation even with crimes of violence.

Someone explain to me how this is not Emmett Till justice. Rock County, Wisconsin has one of the worst incarceration rates for people of color in the nation. Enough is enough.

Harriet Everette

Beloit

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