Incarceration rates in Illinois have ballooned since the 1990s, with a prison population 50% higher today than in 1992, despite declining crime levels. In 2015, Illinois committed $1.4 billion to the Department of Corrections, an amount deemed ineffective and costly by researchers behind an initiative titled Chicago’s Million Dollar Blocks.
The Million Dollar Blocks project maps the total cost of incarceration by neighborhood for all offenses and by drug-related offenses only. The map identifies “million dollar blocks” where mass incarceration has had a devastating effect on mostly low-income African-American neighborhoods and also on taxpayers who are paying for this devastation. Surely there’s a win-win for the communities and the taxpayers in pursuing a different approach.
In recognition of the costs and burdens associated with incarceration, the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform was created to recommend amendments to state laws, policies, and procedures that will help reduce the state’s prison population by 20% by the year 2025, without harming public safety. The Commission released its initial report in July, which recognizes the need to focus on community treatment programs, particularly for substance abuse and mental health, as an alternative to incarceration and to reduce recidivism. Approaches like these are nothing more than common sense – and long overdue.