A Tale of Three States, Pt. I

In this post from a few months ago, I offered a preliminary assessment of the wide disparity in incarceration rates between Wisconsin and Minnesota.  I had just enough data then to raise some interesting questions.  Now, with the capable help of a research assistant, Garrett Soberalski, I’ve assembled a much more extensive body of data, which I expect to analyze in a series of posts.  Among other things, I thought it would be helpful to add a third state to the mix, so Indiana will also be included in the comparison.  Another medium-sized midwestern state, Indiana has incarceration numbers that are even higher than Wisconsin’s.

In this initial post, though, I will focus just on the basics of the Wisconsin-Minnesota comparison.

So, here’s the essential story (as detailed in the chart that appears after the jump): Wisconsin incarcerates many more people than Minnesota, while Minnesota puts many more individuals on probation.  The two states have about equal levels of crime, and Minnesota actually has a larger percentage of its population under supervision (that is, either incarcerated or on probation or parole release).  However, because incarceration is so much more expensive than community supervision, Minnesota’s corrections budget is much smaller than Wisconsin’s (about $99 per resident, versus Wisconsin’s $234 per resident).  Given the similarity of the two states’ crime rates, it appears that Minnesota’s probation-based strategy is delivering more bang for the buck than Wisconsin’s.

Continue reading “A Tale of Three States, Pt. I”

Wisconsin v. Minnesota

Given the many demographic and cultural similarities between these midwestern neighbors, I’ve long been intrigued by how dramatically different the incarceration rates are in Wisconsin and Minnesota.  How is it that Wisconsin’s per capita incarceration is twice Minnesota’s?  My diligent research assistant Joe Gorndt has gathered some data to try to shed light on this problem.  First, here is the basic demographic data:


Minnesota Wisconsin
Population (2009) 5.3 mm 5.7 mm
Age under 18 24.3% 23.6%
Age over 65 12.4% 13.2%
Over 25, HS diploma 91.1% 89.0%
Bachelor degree 31.2% 25.5%
Below poverty line 10.0% 11.1%
Foreign born 5.3% 3.6%
Unemployment 5.8% 6.1%

Not much to distinguish the states here.  The most notable difference seems to be the higher percentage of adults with college degrees in Minnesota, but this is hardly a dramatic difference and doesn’t seem likely to explain the imprisonment disparity.

Now take a look at the crime and criminal-justice statistics, courtesy of the National Institute of Corrections.

Continue reading “Wisconsin v. Minnesota”