Sheriff Questioned by Tribal Leaders on Why He Removed Race Statistic from Jail Report
By Joe Morey
In the jail report presented by the Sawyer County Sheriff’s Office at the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CJCC) meeting held on January 11th, one regular statistic had been removed and LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB) member and Sawyer County Board Chairman, Tweed Shuman, asked Sheriff Doug Mrotek why.
The statistic missing was the rate of Native Americans incarcerated each month. Going forward, Mrotek said the race statistic would no longer be in the report. The percentages of Native’s in the Sawyer County Jail, according to statistics kept over a number of years, could range from as low as 60% to as high as 80%.
Shuman asked Mrotek why he would remove the statistic out of the jail report.
“I took it out because I felt that we got very fixed on the race and I’d rather see us focus more on the issues and fix the issues at large,” Mrotek said.
Shuman quickly responded saying that race is an issue, but CJCC chairperson, Kathy McCoy, interrupted him and said he asked a question, and it was answered.
Shuman asked if the sheriff had the right to remove race from the report and she said yes, it’s his report. She said he could ask the committee to have the sheriff put race back in the report, at which time, Shuman asked is this the committee of jurisdiction then, and they agreed it was the Public Safety Committee.
Shuman told LCO News that he currently sits on the Governor’s Juvenile Justice Committee and also sits on the Ethnic and Racial Disparities Subcommittee. Shuman noted that Sawyer County definitely has a racial and ethnic disparity in regards to the incarceration rate of Native Americans.
“The Native American status in the jail reports provides much needed data to successfully apply and support Department of Justice grant funding,” Shuman noted.
A description of the Ethnic and Racial Disparities Subcommittee describes it as overseeing funding to Wisconsin county agencies, tribal governments and agencies, any unit of local government, and nonprofit organizations to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in their community’s juvenile justice system at a specific contact point and develop and implement an innovative program or initiative to reduce the identified disparities in their community.
Sheriff Mrotek told LCO News that he only took the Native American statistic from the report provided to the public, but that his office has the monthly statistics and they are available to the Tribe upon request.
“The reason I took it out of the jail report is that I want the community to work together to reduce jail recidivism and what I’ve has found is that 80% of the inmate population is unemployed,” Mrotek stated.
Furthermore, he said he doesn’t believe the Native jail rate has anything to do with race.
“My goal is to join together with the Tribe. I’ve asked the TGB to work together to reduce recidivism and I think that starts with working towards making them better productive citizens. Income levels do play a role. Those with a job tend not to go to jail,” Mrotek stated.
The sheriff went on to say, “I believe it plays a part in why they are going to jail. That’s where our focus needs to be, on getting people jobs and being productive community members, not on what race everyone is.
“I took the racial report out of the jail report so that we’d actually have this conversation,” Mrotek said. “When I’ve come and talked with the Tribal Governing Board, I’ve brought senior members of my staff and we’ve never not worked with the Tribe and we do our best to answer all questions the TGB has at anytime.”
LCO TGB member Michelle Beaudin said, “It seems like he doesn’t want us to focus on race because of the disparity in the ratio of how many natives are in jail vs other race populations. It proves that it is disproportionate and that our people are being profiled and targeted. This is my opinion of why he wants to remove that indicator.”