Muni Court Debts Slam One Zip Code
One fourth of residents of heavily black 53206 owe money; “shocking,” says Ald. Murphy.
About 25% of youth and adults in the 53206 zip code owed Municipal Court fines as the end of May, according to a Wisconsin Justice Initiative analysis of Municipal Court statistics.
The statistics cover outstanding debt on judgments issued between Jan. 1, 2012 and May 31, 2016.
The 53206 figures are “pretty shocking and deserve much more research,” said Ald. Michael Murphy, chairman of the Common Council’s Judiciary and Legislation Committee.
The Common Council voted last month to spend $45,000 to contract with an attorney to represent indigent defendants in Municipal Court and to supervise third-year law students who will do the same.
WJI’s zip code analysis assumes that outstanding Milwaukee Municipal Court fines are owed by people who are at least 15 years old. The analysis is based on census figures statistics provided by Municipal Court to the city’s Outstanding Debt Work Group.
The analysis shows:
- 5,304 defendants in 53206 owed Municipal Court fines as of May 31. Some 20,292 people 15 or older live in the zip code, according to 2010 census figures, meaning that about a quarter of residents in that age group owed fines.
- The average amount owed in 53206 was $649.62, second only to the $676.36 average owed in the 53233 zip code.
- Blacks by far owed the most in Municipal Court debt. African-Americans owed a total of $23.2 million, or 73.4% of the amount due. Whites owed the second largest amount, $3.5 million, or 11% of the total.
- Men were much more likely to owe money to Municipal Court that women were. While men owed $21.3 million, women owed $8.8 million. Men owed 67.5% of all Municipal Court debt. The average debt owed by men also was much higher than that owed by women. Average debt for men was $624.50, 22.7% more than the $508.89 average debt for women.
Murphy, the alderman, declined to speculate on the disparities, but said he would investigate.
Gretchen Schuldt writes a blog for Wisconsin Justice Initiative, whose mission is “To improve the quality of justice in Wisconsin by educating the public about legal issues and encouraging civic engagement in and debate about the judicial system and its operation.”