Court Watch

Muni Court Debts Slam One Zip Code

One fourth of residents of heavily black 53206 owe money; “shocking,” says Ald. Murphy.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Dec 13th, 2016 03:53 pm
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The 53206 figures are "pretty shocking and deserve much more research," said Ald. Michael Murphy. Photo by Jack Fennimore.

The 53206 figures are “pretty shocking and deserve much more research,” said Ald. Michael Murphy. File photo of Ald. Murphy. Photo by Jack Fennimore.

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.

Defendants in the 53206 zip code, the highest-poverty zip code in the city, also were the most likely to be cited, racking up 41,900 tickets from 2011 through 2014, according to another set of Municipal Court figures. Yet just 723 defendants in the zip code were offered and accepted alternative sentences, though Municipal Court judges are supposed to offer them to indigent defendants. WJI has reported here and here that Milwaukee Municipal Court judges do not routinely inform defendants of their rights to alternative sentences, as they are required by law to do.

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.

Aldermen Milele A. Coggs and Russell W. Stamper II, who represent the 53206 area, did not respond to a request for comment.

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.
Municipal Court outstanding debt by zip code on judgments from Jan. 1, 2012 and May 31, 2016

Municipal Court outstanding debt by zip code on judgments from Jan. 1, 2012 and May 31, 2016

Debt distribution by zip code on judgments from Jan. 1, 2012 and May 31, 2016

Debt distribution by zip code on judgments from Jan. 1, 2012 and May 31, 2016

  • 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.
Municipal Court outstanding debt by race on judgments from Jan. 1, 2012 and May 31, 2016

Municipal Court outstanding debt by race on judgments from Jan. 1, 2012 and May 31, 2016

  • 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.

Municipal Court outstanding debt by gender on judgments from Jan. 1, 2012 and May 31, 2016

Municipal Court outstanding debt by gender on judgments from Jan. 1, 2012 and May 31, 2016

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.”

Categories: Court Watch, Crime

One thought on “Court Watch: Muni Court Debts Slam One Zip Code”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think this article could have been improved with more information. Muni Ct doesn’t choose the zipcode for which it hears cases. When someone is ticketed by the Milw Police Dept, defendants can either pay their ticket or challenge it in Muni Court. Some zipcodes are not shown at all and some have higher rates of payment than 53206. So does that mean that people in other zipcodes pay their tickets upon receipt and therefore do not challenge them in Muni Ct.? If so, that information should be included as those people should be lauded. Also, does that mean that many people in the other zipcodes commit fewer offenses and therefore receive fewer tickets? Including more information would make this article better.

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