Archive for the ‘Cost of Incarceration’ Category

New Report Offers More Complete Calculation of Costs of Imprisonment

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

How much does imprisonment cost a state’s taxpayers?  The question is conventionally answered simply by looking at the budget of the state’s department of corrections.  In some states, however, a substantial share of the imprisonment-related expenses are borne by other state agencies or otherwise do not appear in the corrections department’s budget.  In order to provide a more complete accounting of the costs of imprisonment, researchers from the Vera Institute of Justice recently collected and analyzed data from forty states (including Wisconsin).  Their findings were published in the Federal Sentencing Reporter at 25 Fed. Sent. Rep. 68 (2012).

The Vera researchers identified eleven categories of costs that are not included in corrections budgets.  The most important of these, amounting to almost $2 billion in costs nationally in 2010, took the form of gaps in the funding of health benefits for retired corrections employees.  In some states, this and other off-the-budget costs added up to a large share of total prison costs.  For instance, in both Connecticut and Illinois, about one-third of the total prison cost was outside the corrections budget.  When hidden expenses are so high, the public may have a hard time evaluating the true cost-effectiveness of state sentencing and corrections policies.

Wisconsin’s hidden costs, at 8.5 percent of the total, were somewhat below the average among the forty states studied.   (more…)

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Incarceration and Collateral Damage: Prof. Traci Burch to Speak at Marquette on Nov. 29

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

We live in an era of unprecedented mass incarceration. Since the mid-1970′s, America’s imprisonment rate has quintupled, reaching heights otherwise unknown in the western world. We embarked on this incarceration binge with little understanding of what impact it would have on families and communities. The past fifteen years, however, have witnessed a great outpouring of research and writing on the collateral effects of imprisonment. Those who work in the criminal-justice system should be – and I think increasingly are – knowledgeable about the real impact that their work has on the lives of the many human beings who are connected to each incarcerated person.

Practitioners (and students) who would like to learn more about this important issue will have a wonderful opportunity to do so in two weeks, when Professor Traci Burch of Northwestern University comes to Marquette Law School to speak on the “The Collateral Consequences of Incarceration.” Here is the description:

Dr. Burch will discuss the effects of mass incarceration on families and communities on Thursday, November 29th. This talk is based in part on her forthcoming book, Punishment and Participation: How Criminal Convictions Threaten American Democracy (University of Chicago Press). Dr. Burch will discuss how criminal justice policies shape disease, crime, domestic partner relationships, children and voting participation in low-income communities.

This event is co-sponsored by Marquette’s Department of Political Science, Law School, Klinger College of Arts and Sciences, Office of the Vice Provost for Research, Department of Social and Cultural Sciences, and Institute for Urban Life.

The talk will begin at 5:15, with an informal reception and light refreshments to follow. Additional information and a link to register for the talk are here.

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For Punishment, Do Costs Count?

Friday, July 20th, 2012

In my previous post, I discussed some of the fascinating results from the recent Marquette University Law School Poll, in which about 700 Wisconsin residents were asked various questions about crime and punishment.  In this post, I’ll consider what the Poll results have to say about a crucial question for sentencing policy and politics: do costs matter, or are the interests served by punishment of such overriding social importance that expense is no object at sentencing?

This question is related to another question I raised in the previous post: is punishment valued more in instrumental or symbolic terms?  If people look to punishment primarily as a way to decrease crime and increase public safety (the instrumental approach), then costs seem to have a natural place in the equation.  As much as we value our safety, there are always limits to what we are willing to spend to protect ourselves.    Few of us hire body guards, or purchase bulletproof vests, or build panic rooms in our homes — the small reductions in risk that we would enjoy simply do not seem worth the cost and inconvenience, and there seems nothing odd about thinking of risk in these sorts of cost-benefit terms.  But if punishment is instead viewed in symbolic terms — as making a statement about who we are as a people and what our deepest moral values are — then cost considerations seem out of place.  It would make us uncomfortable to say, “X is the right thing to do, but I’m not going to do it because it is too expensive.”

The Poll did not ask the big philosophical question about costs directly, but several questions seem to get at it indirectly.  The answers suggest some real ambivalence and division in public attitudes.

(more…)

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New Report on Criminal-Justice Reforms in 2011: States Continue to Look for Ways to Cut Costs

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

In a new report entitled “The State of Sentencing 2011: Developments in Policy and Practice,” Nicole Porter of The Sentencing Project summarizes the most recent set of criminal-justice reforms adopted across the United States.  Continuing a recurring theme in recent years, many of these reforms are intended to reduce incarceration numbers and corrections budgets.  Here are some highlights:

(more…)

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A Tale of Three States, Pt. 3: Harsh Hoosiers

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

In the first post in this series, I explored the large gap between the incarceration rates of Minnesota and Wisconsin.  In the second, I discussed racial disparities in the incarcerated populations of the two states.  The disparities in both states are wide, although Wisconsin’s are somewhat larger.  In this entry, I add a third state, Indiana, to the statistical comparisons.  As another medium-sized midwestern state, one might expect that Indiana would have criminal-justice numbers that are similar to Minnesota’s and Wisconsin’s.  Indiana’s numbers, however, point to a criminal-justice sustem that is much larger and harsher than those of its northern neighbors.

As detailed in the table that appears after the jump, Indiana’s imprisonment rate (about 460 per 100,000) easily outstrips Wisconsin’s (387) and dwarfs Minnesota’s (178).  Perhaps even more surprisingly, Indiana’s probation population also exceeds Minnesota’s.  My Minnesota-Wisconsin comparison suggested that Wisconsin imprisons many defendants who would get probation in Minnesota, leading to a much smaller probation population in the former than the latter.  But Indiana seems to incarcerate the same way that Wisconsin does, without any accompanying reduction in the probation numbers.

For that reason, Indiana’s total supervised population of 167,872 is the largest of the three states (although Minnesota, with the smallest overall population of three, still has a somewhat larger per capita supervised population, thanks to its enormous per capita probation number).

Indiana also leads the way in crime.

(more…)

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Chisholm’s Take on Criminal-Justice Reform

Friday, March 4th, 2011

I posted last week on a recent op-ed by Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke opposing so-called “smart-on-crime” initiatives.  Clarke may have been responding, at least in part, to Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s Feb. 11 address at Marquette Law School.  (Chisholm’s text is here, and video is here.)  Whether or not Clarke meant to take on Chisholm, it is clear their respective approaches differ quite dramatically.  I’ll share some thoughts in this post on Chisholm’s proposals, which I generally find more appealing than Clarke’s call for mass incapacitation.

Chisholm advances three proposals.  First, ”local safety officials must continue to adopt evidence based practices at all levels, from the time a person has contact with a police officer until the time they are released back into the community.” 

(more…)

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Voters Prefer to Cut Corrections Spending Over Education Spending

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

I’ve just been reviewing an interesting set of survey results regarding criminal-justice policy from last fall (yes, I’m a little behind in my reading).  Sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the survey’s key findings are reported here.  In light of the current controversy in Wisconsin over the Governor’s newly released budget, I was particularly intrigued by public views regarding spending priorities in times of fiscal crisis.  Here are the percentages who rated various competing options “strongly not acceptable”:

Reducing funding for K-12: 71%

Raising property taxes: 60%

Reducing funding for health care services: 58%

Reducing funding for higher education: 55%

Raising business taxes: 39%

Reducing funding for state prisons: 27%

Raising income taxes for the wealthy: 23%

Reducing funding for transportation projects: 21%

Governor Walker’s budget seems to reverse these priorities: K-12 education is getting slashed by $834 million over the next two years, while corrections loses only $52.6 million.  (I get these numbers from yesterday’s Journal Sentinel report.)

Two other aspects of the budget proposal also caused me to raise my eyebrows.

(more…)

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The Early-Release Renaissance: Updated Chart

Friday, February 25th, 2011

As I indicated in an earlier post, I’ve been collecting information on new legislation around the country that expands early-release opportunities for prison inmates.  By my count, we are now up to at least 36 states with such legislation in the past decade.  My table, now updated to include 2010 legislation, appears after the jump.

(more…)

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Roundup of New Laws Affecting Sentencing and Corrections

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Earlier this week, the Sentencing Project released its annual roundup of new develoments in sentencing policy, The State of Sentencing 2010.  I always find these reports quite helpful.  As has been common in recent years, the overriding trend has been for states to look for ways to reduce corrections spending without compromising public safety.  Here are what the Sentencing Project characterizes as the “highlights”:

  • South Carolina equalized penalties for crack and powder cocaine offenses as part of a sentencing reform package that garnered bipartisan support.
  • New Jersey modified its mandatory sentencing law that applies to convictions in “drug free school zones,” and now authorizes judges to impose sentences below the mandatory minimum in appropriate cases. Prior to the reform, more than 3,600 defendants a year were convicted under the statute, 96% of whom were African American or Latino.
  • Colorado modified its parole revocation policy in order to encourage greater use of substance abuse treatment programs. The legislation also requires that a portion of the cost savings from reduced incarceration be allocated to reentry services including employment assistance and substance abuse treatment.
  • Vermont established a goal of reducing the incarceration rate that directs a coalition of criminal justice stakeholders to work cooperatively to reduce the incarceration rate to 300 persons or less per 100,000 population, from the current rate of 370 per 100,000.

I am interested in the Vermont idea, which the Sentencing Project particularly holds out as a model for other states.  Although any particular numerical target will always be somewhat arbitrary, a specific goal as to which progress can be precisely, quantitatively measured may be very helpful to mobilize stakeholders. 

How does Wisconsin do?  Our imprisonment rate is 369 per 100,000 (this excludes those incarcerated in local jails).  How about we shoot for Minnesota’s rate of 189?

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State Legislatures Continue to Grapple With Corrections Budgets

Friday, October 8th, 2010

I’ve just read the National Conference of State Legislatures’ new E-Bulletin on developments in sentencing and corrections policy. The dominant theme continues to be fiscal pressures and the need to rein in corrections spending.  States across the country are emphasizing community-based alternatives to imprisonment and enhanced services and release opportunities for inmates.  Here are some highlights from the first half of 2010:   (more…)

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