“Mass Incarceration in Three Midwestern States”–Final Version

The Valparaiso University Law Review has now posted the final version of my article “Mass Incarceration in Three Midwestern States: Origins and Trends.”  Here’s the abstract:

This Article considers how the mass incarceration story has played out over the past forty years in three medium-sized, Midwestern states, Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. The three stories are similar in many respects, but notable differences are also apparent. For instance, Minnesota’s imprisonment rate is less than half that of the other two states, while Indiana imprisons more than twice as many drug offenders as either of its peers. The Article seeks to unpack these and other imprisonment trends and to relate them to crime and arrest data over time, focusing particularly on the relative importance of violent crime and drug enforcement as drivers of imprisonment growth.

This paper was part of an interesting symposium issue on mass incarceration and the drug war.

Print Friendly

Read More

Which States Have Reduced Their Prison Populations in the Past Decade?

By 2002, in the wake of a recession that caused major fiscal challenges in many states, there was an increasingly widespread recognition that the American imprisonment boom of the 1980s and 1990s was not economically sustainable.  Dozens of states adopted new sentencing and corrections policies that were intended to restrain further growth in imprisonment.  These reforms seem to have had some success, as imprisonment rates finally stabilized after so many years of explosive growth.  However, very little progress has been made toward bringing U.S. imprisonment rates back down to our historical norms.  The “if you build it, they will come” principle seems in evidence — after so much prison capacity was built in the boom years, we’ve found ways to keep using it even as crime rates have tumbled down.

A few states have had success, however, in downsizing their prison populations.  Here are the ten states whose prison populations dropped between December 2002 and December 2012:

New York             -19%
New Jersey           -17%
California             -16%
Connecticut          -15%
Michigan              -14%
Maryland              -9%
South Carolina     -5%
Wisconsin             -5%
Rhode Island        -2%
Hawaii                  -1%

Even the largest decreases on the list are rather small compared with the size of the pre-2002 increases.  Nonetheless, some might wonder whether reduced imprisonment has resulted in more crime.  With that concern in mind, I gathered data on violent crime in the five states that experienced double-digit drops in imprisonment.   (more…)

Print Friendly

Read More

Violence in the Heartland, Part VI: Cities Within the City

My most recent posts in this series have compared violent crime data from different cities.  However, focusing on a single crime-rate number from a city may mask wide neighborhood-to-neighborhood variations within the city.

Consider Milwaukee.  A helpful on-line data tool permits interesting comparisons among the city’s seven police districts.  The data reveal that rates of violent crime vary within the city by about as much as they do across cities.  Here, for instance, are the homicides per 100,000 district residents since 2010:

District 5, encompassing the north-central portion of the city, has easily had the highest homicide rate each year, while Districts 1 (downtown and northeast) and 6 (far south) have easily had the lowest.  (District boundaries are described in more detail here.)

Robbery rates reflect a similar pattern:  (more…)

Print Friendly

Read More

Violence in the Heartland, Part V: Wisconsin’s Cities

Since 1985, Wisconsin’s seven largest cities have followed markedly different paths in their rates of reported violent crime.  Two, Waukesha and Appleton, have consistently had lower rates than the state as a whole, while two others, Milwaukee and Racine, have typically had rates that are two to three times higher than the state as a whole.  Kenosha and Racine have significantly reduced their rates of violence since the 1980s, while the other five cities have experienced sizable net increases.

Here are the overall trends, in the form of reported violent crimes per 100,000 city residents:

Cities year by year

In recent years, as you can see, Waukesha has easily had the lowest rates and Milwaukee the highest.  Earlier, Appleton used to compete with some success for lowest and Racine for highest.

Here are the net changes in the cities’ crime rates from 1985-1987 to 2010-2012:   (more…)

Print Friendly

Read More

Violence in the Heartland, Part IV: The Biggest Losers (and Gainers)

Among the eleven biggest Midwestern cities, Chicago has experienced the largest drop in homicide rates over the past quarter-century, while Cincinnati has experienced the largest increase.  The other nine cities are scattered between the biggest loser and the biggest gainer, reflecting a range of markedly different urban experiences with lethal violence since the mid-1980s.

This rather messy graph indicates the annual number of homicides (murder and other nonnegligent manslaughter) per 100,000 residents for each of the eleven Midwestern jurisdictions with a population of more than 250,000:

homicides by 11 cities

Other than Detroit’s position as the region’s perennial homicide champ, it is hard to discern any patterns in the mass of lines.

The following table provides a clearer picture of each city’s trajectory.   (more…)

Print Friendly

Read More

Violence in the Heartland, Part III: City Trends

In earlier posts (here and here), I have explored state-level violence trends since 1960 in the seven midwestern states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  This post focuses on the data from the largest city of each of these states.  Since Chicago does not report its rape numbers in conformity with FBI standards, it is omitted from the analysis.

Here are the city trends since 1985 (reported violent crimes per 100,000 residents):

city data

What stands out most is the very wide, persistent gap between Detroit at the top of the chart and Des Moines at the bottom.   (more…)

Print Friendly

Read More

Violence in the Heartland, 1960-2012–Part One

Despite their geographical proximity and economic and cultural similarities, the states of the Midwest have had very different rates of violent crime over the past five decades.  Moreover, through periods of dramatic increases and decreases in violent crime, the relative positions of the states have remained fairly stable.  The low-violence states in 1960 remain at the low end today, while the high-violence states in 1960 remain at the high end today.  However, the gap between the high states and low states has been slowly diminishing for many years.  In another decade, the state that has historically had the highest rate of violence, Illinois, may conceivably fall to about the same level as the state that has historically had the lowest, Iowa.

Readers of this Blog may know that I have previously written a series of posts on crime and punishment in three midwestern states, Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin (e.g., here and here).  With this post, I begin a new series that will explore regional trends more broadly.  With violent crime such a staple of local news coverage, I think it’s helpful to be able to place the crime du jour within a wider spatial and temporal context; perhaps this bigger-picture view may lessen the tendency to adopt hastily conceived policy responses to whatever happens to be the latest outrage.

Here are the rates of reported violent crime (per 100,000 residents) in the midwestern states and the U.S. as a whole since 1960:   (more…)

Print Friendly

Read More

Thoughts on Imprisonment in Wisconsin: Past, Present, and Future

Public Opinion

  • Wisconsin voters do not favor indiscriminate harshness in the treatment of criminal offenders, but rather believe that the costs and benefits of imprisonment should be carefully weighed in each case.  In the July 2013 Marquette Law School Poll,[1] a clear majority of Wisconsin voters (55.3%) expressed support for the idea that “prisons are a government spending program, and just like any other government program, they should be put to the cost-benefit test. States should analyze their prison populations and figure out if there are offenders in expensive prison cells who can be safely and effectively supervised in the community at a lower cost.”[2]
  • An overwhelming majority of Wisconsin voters (85%) agree that “criminals who have genuinely turned their lives around deserve a second chance.”[3]
  • An overwhelming majority of Wisconsin voters (86%) say that they “feel safe walking alone at night” in their neighborhoods.”[4]  Although fear and outrage have sometimes dominated public discussion of criminal justice policies, Wisconsin is ready for a more balanced conversation that considers what policies will deliver the greatest benefits to the state at the least cost over the long run.

Imprisonment and Crime Trends

(more…)

Print Friendly

Read More

Milwaukee Arrest Trends, 1980-2011 — Part III: Chicago Comparisons

Chicago’s population is about 4.5 times larger than Milwaukee’s, but, surprisingly, the arrest totals in the two cities have been slowly converging for many years.  Here are the numbers reported to the FBI since 1980 (omitting a handful of years in which one city or the other did not report arrests):

two city totals

 

To some extent, the convergence may result from underlying crime trends in the two cities.

(more…)

Print Friendly

Read More

Arrest Trends in Milwaukee, 1980-2011 — Part Two

In the first post in this series, I compared black and white arrest rates in Milwaukee over time. In this post, I present arrest data by offense type.

In 2011, the seven leading arrest offenses were disorderly conduct, “other assault” (i.e., not aggravated assault), drug possession, theft, vagrancy, vandalism, and weapons possession.  Together, these seven offenses accounted for more than 53 percent of all Milwaukee Police Department arrests.  This amounts to almost exactly ten times the number of arrests for the violent “index crimes” — the most serious violent offenses that dominate media coverage of the criminal justice system (homicide, robbery, forcible rape, and aggravated assault).  To get a more realistic sense of the day-in-day-out work of the system, it may be helpful to appreciate that for every homicide arrest you see in the news, there are 123 arrests for disorderly conduct and 47 arrests for simple drug possession — nearly all of which fly well below the media radar screen.  It is an interesting question to what extent these lower-level arrests contribute to public safety.

These offense distributions do not differ much by race.  The first pie chart below indicates the distribution of the Big Seven arrest offenses among blacks; the second provides the distribution among whites.   (more…)

Print Friendly

Read More