Paul Soglin has tried to clarify what I thought was a rather elliptical satire of John McAdams' study on racial disparity. I don't think that he has managed to salvage his point. Here is what he now says about McAdams study:
McAdams uses his preconditioned prejudices and right-wing social theories to dictate the outcome. Any person with a brain in their body would look at the data and conclude that Wisconsin does lock up too many blacks and try to figure out how to solve that problem.
Well, yes, but, in order to do that, wouldn't one have to know why Wisconsin locks up too many blacks? Is it because of differences in the crime rate or is it because of bias in the criminal justice system? That's what McAdams is after. If it's not due to bias in the criminal justice system (his argument) then the Governor's Commission on Reducing Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System is barking up the wrong tree if it insists on solutions focused on the system. In fact, as Professor McAdams points out, those solutions might even make conditions in the central city worse if, as a result of an obsession with improving the numbers in the criminal justice system, we adopt policies that impair law enforcement and result in more inner city crime. Poverty can cause crime but crime can also cause poverty.
As I wrote yesterday, Paul is confusing a social scientist's attempt to explain a phenomenon with a value judgment that the explanation means that the phenomenon should be accepted. McAdams is arguing that the disparity is "explained" by something other than bias in the criminal justice system and that, given the situation on the ground, the racial disparities that we see are should be expected.
But that is a claim about facts. It is not a judgement about whether those facts are good or bad or whether they deserve some response outside of the criminal justice system.
Paul asks what we should do to change this and that is a fair and important question. But it can't be answered until we know what needs to be changed. We can't remedy a disparity until we know why it exists. That is the task that John set for himself.
Paul apparently doesn't like the title of John's article: "Is Wisconsin Locking Up Too Many Blacks?" because answering the question in the negative somehow implies complacency about racial disparities. But the title (which he may not have even chosen; I have a piece in the same magazine and I didn't choose the title) is obviously a reference to the Governor's Commission and the question of bias in the criminal justice system. If there are disparities in the crime rate that explain the disparities in the outcomes of the criminal justice system, then the criminal justice system isn't locking up too many blacks.
This says nothing about whether whatever is causing the disparity in the crime rates is acceptable or, if it's not, what can be done about it. Paul says he votes for eliminating poverty. Wonderful. That's a great goal to have and we can talk about how to do it. But, as Professor McAdams suggests, if the problem is, for example, racial disparities in the poverty rate leading to racial disparities in the crime rate leading to racial disparities in the incarceration rate, focusing on the last element in the chain won't eliminate poverty and may make it worse.