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Saturday, April 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 57.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
The Paper


Recipe for failure

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Two things make America a great country: its freedom and its people. It's the freedom that allows the people to confront their lives and seek solutions, to ask questions, to chase ideas. The formula for success then mixes people with freedom and waits to see what comes out the other end. It's a simple process, but it seems to take a long time to recognize it, and we keep forgetting the formula.

Our cover story this week illustrates one area where we as a nation have failed to abide by the formula: the historical treatment of the black population and our mistaken policies in regard to corrections. It becomes evident now that building more and tougher prisons is not the solution to society's problems at all. It leads us to ask: How much of our national treasure has been consigned to prison cells and marginalized lives?

To partly answer that question, contributor Pat Dillon gives us the story of Caliph Muab-el in "Out of Prison, Into the Light," the story of a person sentenced to 15 years in prison as a teenager who has used his talent, resilience and determination to begin battling Wisconsin's dismal record of racial neglect. And it is not a benign neglect when 12.5% of black people in Wisconsin are in jail.

Something is wrong in Wisconsin -- indeed, the whole U.S., but especially in Wisconsin -- when the numbers are so racially skewed. It took a hundred years for this country to ban slavery. It took another hundred years to legally enshrine the rights of racial minorities. It will probably take another hundred years to wash racial bias out of the culture. But there are plenty of good folks working on the problem. If only we didn't keep forgetting the formula.

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