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PolitiFact Wisconsin: Is the mass incarceration of African American men worse than those enslaved?

Posted: 9:03 PM, Nov 01, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-01 22:03:12-04
Inside a jail cell with the bars facing out

Mass incarceration of African Americans in Wisconsin and around the country have become a big political issue. So when the CEO of American Family Insurance compared mass incarceration numbers to slavery - he caught the attention of PolitiFact Wisconsin.

You may remember earlier this year, CEO Jack Salzwedel made news when he announced American Family will have the new naming rights for Miller Park in 2021.

But it's a speech last month with business leaders, that Salzwedel talked about the need to address the country's mass incarceration numbers of African American men and made this comparison.

"He came to a claim that we checked which was, there are more African American men in the penal system today than there were enslaved in the height of slavery," said Greg Borowski with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

PolitFact Wisconsin says the numbers in penal system included African American men in federal, state and local jails - and those on probation and parole. The number adds up to 1.75 million in 2016 or double the number of black men enslaved.

"If you go back to the 1850, the records as they stand, show that there were about 873,000 African American men who were enslaved," said Borowski.

PolitiFact Wisconsin points out one caveat or context to the numbers, as a percentage of the population, there were more African American males enslaved in 1850 than are in the penal system today. But, "by the numbers, when he makes this comparison, he's correct," said Borowski.

PolitiFact Wisconsin rated this claim Mostly True.