Check out this interesting new feature produced by the Urban Institute to showcase the potential effect of different types of reforms for decreasing mass incarceration. The Urban Institute explains:
The tool currently uses data from 15 states, representing nearly 40 percent of the national prison population, to forecast population trends and project the impact of changes on rates of admission or lengths of stay in prison.
Using the tool, we can see that in some states, limiting prison admissions to only new crimes and diverting parole and probation revocations will substantially reduce the number of people behind bars. Other states can stem prison growth by tackling how they address drug and property offenses. Still others may discover that modest reductions in time served for violent offenses are necessary.
As Erik Eckholm noted in promoting this feature in the New York Times, “When President Obama, the Koch Brothers, the American Civil Liberties Union and Newt Gingrich all agree on an issue, you know that something important may be happening.”
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart recently appointed a clinical psychologist as the executive director of the jail. She “is currently the only mental health professional in charge of a major jail in the United States.”
“A study in 1990 found that 1 in 15 prisoners at Cook County Jail had some form of mental illness. Today, a conservative estimate is 1 in 3.”
The article calls the jail’s processing system “unusual, and possibly unique”: “After the normal post-bail intake procedure is complete, inmates file through a series of concrete cubicles staffed by a battalion of employees from the Cook County Health and Hospitals System. About 600 of the county hospital system’s 6,000 employees work at Cook County Jail. If the inmate is eligible, county officials can sign up him or her for CountyCare, a health insurance program for low-income Cook County residents created through the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid. The assembly-line layout allows the county to process about 200 applications a day. Over 10,000 inmates have signed up so far.”
Detroit netted the first 3 spots on NeighborhoodScout’s recent list of the 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in America. The Midwest sadly dominates this list. Chicago is on there four times. Overall, the Midwest takes 14 of the top 25 (if you include St. Louis). In the top two neighborhoods in Detroit (W Chicago / Livernois Ave and Mack Ave / Helen St) you have a 1 in 7 chance of becoming a victim within a year. Here’s the link to the full list.
A recent article in the Southtown Star estimates that it cost Will County (on the Southside of Chicago) nearly $600,000 to obtain the high-profile murder convictions of Drew Peterson and Christopher Vaugh. Some of the charges were for evidence that wasn’t even used: since 2009, the county paid $75 per month for a storage locker to house the tub from Peterson’s former wife’s home, and the tub wasn’t even used in the prosecution.
But other expenses did contribute to the trial. For example, the county paid nearly $100,000 to TrialGraphix, which according to its website specializes “jury consulting, graphic design, presentation technologies, and trial preparation solutions.” According to the Southtown article, the company was paid “to modernize the state’s attorney’s office’s ability to present evidence in court.” Still, the State paid this firm nearly two times the cost of a year’s salary for a new state prosecutor.
All of these businesses have been created solely to service the criminal justice system; an unsurprising result given the need for specialized skills in this area, but one that doesn’t help rebut the perception that the justice system is profit driven.
Federal imprisonment is expensive to the government; the average expense of maintaining a federal prisoner for a year is between $25,000 and $30,000, and the expense rises steeply with the prisoner’s age because the medical component of a prisoner’s expense will rise with his age, especially if he is still alive in his 70s (not to mention his 80s or 90s). It has been estimated that an elderly prisoner costs the prison system between $60,000 and $70,000 a year.
That is not a net social cost, because if free these elderly prisoners would in all likelihood receive Medicare and maybe Medicaid benefits to cover their medical expenses. But if freed before they became elderly, and employed, they would have contributed to the Medicare and Medicaid programs through payroll taxes — which is a reminder of an additional social cost of imprisonment: the loss of whatever income the prisoner might lawfully have earned had he been free, income reflecting his contribution to society through lawful employment.
I’m not sure what the solution is. Here’s a New Republic article where Judge Posner discusses some possibilities. But I do think that it is important that more Americans realize these costs, which are often (perhaps rightly?) brushed aside in the name of justice. At the very least, it’s something local officials should consider when embarking on high-profile murder cases.
As a follow up to yesterday’s post about the SimCity zoning map of Chicago, I’d like to point out that the map is a collection of interactive apps developed by Open City based largely on information from Chicago’s data portal. A couple of other apps by this project that I think are really interesting are the Crime in Chicago app, which lets you compare crime ward by ward, and breaks down the most frequent crime and even the time of day it was committed, and the How’s Business app, which gives a snapshot view of economic indicators pulled from various sources. These are the types of innovative apps that show the powerful potential for open data.
I thought it would be interesting to look at the different type of criminal cases in the federal Northern District of Illinois versus the Southern District of Illinois. (There is also the Central District of Illinois, which I am not going to discuss.) Obviously, the Northern District includes more than just Chicago, but the city makes the District much more city oriented than the Southern District. I checked out the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s sourcebook on federal sentencing statistics for 2010 and looked at the total cases by category for these two districts (these include cases which went to sentencing, not just those where charges were brought).
Here’s the Northern District’s stats by primary offense: