Category: Research

Sep 23 2014

Irrational Exuberance: Mass Incarceration is STILL An Epidemic…

I’ve been saying for a while that the rhetoric about the “end of mass incarceration” doesn’t match up with the reality that so many people in the U.S. continue to be locked up. Today, James Kilgore published an article on the topic where I am quoted. It’s worth reading (not because I am quoted but because he raises important points).

Ultimately, the report along with events like those in Ferguson, Missouri, reinforced the concerns of many anti-mass incarceration campaigners that current changes were not digging deep enough to yield long lasting results. Peter Wagner, Director of the Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative, highlighted the need for states “to decide whether the people they are sending to prison really need to be there” and the corresponding issue of deciding which people “currently in prison can go home.” Instead, he lamented, states are continuing to hike “the number of people they send to prison for new offenses and violations of parole and decreasing the number of people they let out.”

Author and activist Ruthie Gilmore, who currently is associate director of the Center for Place, Culture and Politics at CUNY, argued that the BOJ statistics have exposed the shortcomings of “opportunists” who have “blown up real solidarity.” She maintains that moderate reforms have promoted “the delusion that it’s possible to cherry pick some people from the prison machine” rather than undertake a broad restructuring of the communities which have been devastated by mass incarceration. Mariame Kaba, head of Project NIA which practices transformative justice as a foil to youth incarceration in Chicago communities, concurred with Gilmore, stressing that “the rationale for and logic of punishment is unchanged. The targets of our punishment mindset also remain overwhelmingly black and poor.”

Kaba points out that the discourse has altered but policy seems to have lagged behind. “Talk and actions are not the same thing,” she said, “there is a need to move beyond awareness and take steps to address mass incarceration in real ways.”

"Lets not forget that people incarcerated in prison are just a portion of the people under control of the correctional system. There are jails, juvenile prisons, military prisons, immigration detention, Indian Country jails, territorial prisons, civil commitment, plus probation and parole of which there are 3,981,090 adults on probation, and 851,662 adults on parole."

“Lets not forget that people incarcerated in prison are just a portion of the people under control of the correctional system. There are jails, juvenile prisons, military prisons, immigration detention, Indian Country jails, territorial prisons, civil commitment, plus probation and parole of which there are 3,981,090 adults on probation, and 851,662 adults on parole.”

Jan 25 2012

Policing Chicago Public Schools: A New Report about School-Based Arrests

Youth Created Art (7/31/10)

Regular readers won’t be surprised to know that I think police officers in our schools are a bad idea. In Chicago, where I live, each public high school is assigned two police officers at a cost of $75,000 a year each. This is in addition to security staff that already work in our schools. In Chicago and other cities across the country, the police serve as a gateway to the school-to-prison pipeline. I believe that a lack of data transparency contributes to the invisibility of this pipeline for most parents and community members. As such, I have spent the past couple of months working on a report about school-based arrests in Chicago Public Schools.

Today, I am happy to announce the release of “Policing Chicago Public Schools: A Gateway to the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” The report analyzes data from the Chicago Police Department to show (for the first time in seven years) the type of offenses and the demographics (gender, age and race) of the juveniles arrested on CPS properties in calendar year 2010.

I am proud to have co-authored the report with my friend Frank Edwards.

From the introduction of the report:
Our purpose in writing this report is to ensure that the public is informed about the scope and extent of policing in Chicago Public Schools. We hope that this will galvanize educators, parents, students, policymakers and community members to advocate for a dramatic decrease of CPS’s reliance on law enforcement to address school discipline issues. Instead, we would like to see an increase in the use of restorative justice, which is an effective approach, to respond to student misbehavior in our schools.

In light of a push for budget austerity, limited resources should be re-directed away from policing and into affirming programs and opportunities for students. This, we believe, will improve the overall well-being of all stakeholders in the educational system (most especially students). We also call on our city council to improve data transparency by passing an ordinance requiring CPS and CPD to report quarterly on the numbers of students arrested in the district. Having timely and reliable information will support efforts to hold CPS and CPD accountable. Finally, we believe that student privacy should be protected rather than further eroded. Current reporting practices between schools and law enforcement do not need to be reformed to increase the exchange of student information between these parties.

You can find the report HERE.

Jan 09 2011

The ‘Myth’ of Reentry (Cont’d): An Ethnographic Account

I have gotten many very interesting responses to my post about Michael Vick and the ‘Myth’ of Reentry.

One of the questions raised by a commenter was about how the prison system has traditionally handled the issue of prisoner re-integration into society. I thought that this was an excellent question that deserves further investigation.

I came across this ethnographic description by Etheridge Knight of what happens once a prisoner is paroled in his essay “Inside These Walls” that I referenced yesterday.

Finally, when a man is paroled, he is given $15 in cash and a new suit of clothes (out of style) by the state. And most men leaving prison have nothing on which to rely until they can draw a paycheck. (During the years in prison he has earned an average of ten cents a day. A bar of soap costs twenty cents, in prison.)

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, a man leaving prison is going to work on a blue-collar job, so the new suit of clothes is without utility. The fifteen dollars will hardly provide him with a place to stay — to say nothing of the personal necessities: work clothes, razor and toothbrush, etc. Because of all of this, a man who has a wife or relatives on whom he must rely us from the outset put into an embarrassing, self-demeaning position. A man who has no wife or close relatives is forced to seek out old friends, usually those in an environment which quickly shoves him back into criminal activities.

Small wonder then that 75 per cent of all ex-convicts return to crime. Men are put into prison for the protection of society, it is said, but is it being protected when 90 per cent of all the men in prison will at one time or another be released and when 75 per cent of them return to crime?

If this was the case in the mid-1960s, how could we update this description in 2011? I would be interested if any enterprising researchers could send along an update of Knight’s description for 2011. Pick the particular state that you want to focus on. Knight was writing about the situation in Indiana. So how much money are prisoners who are released today given (if any)? Are they provided with a change of clothes? How much does soap cost today?

Update: Special thanks to Oona for sending along this information about the current California system

[H]ere is what I know about the California Dept of Corrections (and Rehabilitation)

When released from a California State Prison, the man/woman released receives the following:
If they have served > 6 months: $200
If they have served < 6 months: $1.10 for each day served in custody.
Subtracted from this amount is the ~$40 charged for the clothes on their back (a grey sweatsuit), unless they are lucky enough to have family/friends or one of the few community programs provide them with "dress-outs", ie normal street clothing mailed to the institution and given to the inmate on day of release.

The released person is then either picked up at the gate, or dropped off at a local bus station. If, for example, the released person must travel from Marin County, CA to Los Angeles County, CA, there goes 1/2 of their gate money.

I welcome testimonies from others about how things work in your state…

Update 2: A dispatch from Nequam…

There’s basically 2 systems in Texas. If you’re being released from a state jail facility, you’re given no money from the state. You will be given clothing that somewhat fits you. If you have money in your commissary account, this is provided to you in the form of a check. If you have no one to pick you up, you are taken to the bus station. If you are not from the immediate area of your release, you will be provided with a bus ticket. If you are living prison, all is the same except that you are given $50 upon your release and another $50 when you first report to your parole officer. If you have no family to return to you’re basically dropped off on the streets.

Nov 03 2010

Introducing the Chicago Youth Justice Data Project…

Want to know how many youth were arrested in Chicago in 2009?

Interested in learning about the racial breakdown of youth detained at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in 2009?

How many cases were diverted from juvenile court in 2008?

After over a year of struggle, I am pleased to introduce the Chicago Youth Justice Data Project. In our current economic, political and social climate, the adage “information is power” is even more true.

Our communities are disempowered when we are kept in the dark about how the state is intervening in our lives.  The Chicago Youth Justice Data Project brings the most timely & relevant information about juvenile justice & youth criminalization to community members.  It is critical that citizens be equipped with data in order to effectively advocate for reforms.  Relevant data increases our credibility and authority.  Yet it is difficult to access and especially in one place. I hope that the Chicago Youth Justice Data Project contributes to remedying this issue.

I am a long-time organizer and I approach research from this prism.  I care about data because I know that when properly deployed it can help to transform the systematic ways in which marginalized communities are kept out of the policy-making and decision-making processes.

Special thanks to designer and illustrator Lester Rojas for collaborating with me to bring my vision to fruition.  Lester put in countless hours of his time to complete this project.  It was a labor of love because Lord knows that we could not afford to pay him what he is worth.  Thank you Lester!

Thanks also to the Steans Family Foundation for their generous support.   Without it, this project would not have been possible.

This webzine is dedicated to the memory of the committed organizer and musician, Damian Turner who was taken from all of us way too soon.

I am very interested in keeping this site up to date so please send along any new data that you come across related to juvenile justice in Chicago and Illinois.  If you would like to provide any feedback on the site, please contact me at

If you have a minute and the interest, please visit the Chicago Youth Justice Data Project.

Oct 03 2010

Information Activism & Community Organizing: A Report about Juvenile Justice in Rogers Park

I have not posted anything in the past couple of days because I have been busy beyond belief working on several projects that are due to be released in the next few weeks.

One of the projects that I have been working on for over a year now is called the Chicago Youth Justice Data Project. This initiative is connected to the work of my organization. I will have more to say about the Chicago Youth Justice Data Project in November when it is officially launched.

I am a proponent and believer in what some call “open source knowledge.” By definition, this means that I do not subscribe to the concept of proprietary knowledge (particularly by the State/Government). It is my belief that all information and knowledge is to be shared and transferred to create strong social movements for change and transformation.

To that end, for those of you who live in Chicago, you might be interested in a new neighborhood-specific report that my organization has produced called the 2009 Rogers Park Juvenile Justice Snapshot.

Special thanks to the incomparable Jennifer Wisniewski who basically donated her considerable graphic design skills to make the report visually beautiful!

Below are two versions of the report that you can download if interested:

Jennifer’s Beautiful Version of the Report

Rogers Park 2009 Juvenile Justice Snapshot – BASIC NO FRILLS VERSION

Below are some key findings from the report:

Juvenile Arrests in District 24 by Age

In 2009, there were 546 arrests of youth ages 10-16 reported in the 24th district; 16 years olds made up the largest share of these arrests (245).

Age 2009
11 1
12 13
13 40
14 75
15 172
16 245
Total 546
Source: CLEAR DWH query on 5/25/2010

Juvenile Arrests in District 24 by Race

The vast majority of youth arrested in the 24th district were African American (401).

Race 2009
Amer Ind/Alaskan Native 1
Asian/Pacific Islander 14
Black 401
Black Hispanic 6
Unknown 1
White 28
White Hispanic 95
Total 546
Source: CLEAR DWH query on 5/25/2010

Juvenile Arrest Dispositions for District 24

The majority of youth arrested in the 24th district were referred to court.

Description 2009
Total for District 24 507
Source: Chicago Police Department – Juvenile Advocacy Section
Sep 15 2010

Speaking for Himself: Professor Loic Wacquant Corrects My Characterization of His Critique of the Concept of the Prison Industrial Complex

Last June, I sent a memo to participants in a PIC Communiversity Course that my organization sponsored. In it, I made this argument regarding discussions about the term “prison industrial complex.”

We spent the first two sessions trying to understand the history of prisons and how the PIC operates. One area of debate that we did not broach is whether the term “Prison Industrial Complex” is a good construct to explain the expansion and encroachment of surveillance and incarceration over the past 30 years. There is a pitched battle of ideas in the academic community about whether the PIC is a useful way to describe mass incarceration. Sociologists like Loic Wacquant contend that the PIC is a misguided frame as an explanatory construct for mass incarceration. For information about Wacquant’s critique, you should read his book “Prisons of Poverty.” This is the shorter, more reader-friendly version of his book “Punishing the Poor.” Chris Parenti is another person who is a critic of the term “Prison Industrial Complex.” He contends that prison spending is much less than that of the “military-industrial-complex.” As such, he takes issue with the term. He has other criticisms that he has offered as well.

Finally, in the past couple of years, some have begun to use the term “Corrections-Industrial Complex” instead of PIC. These people contend that since the fastest growing segment of carceral supervision today in the U.S. is probation, it makes more sense to think of this phenomenon as the CIC instead. Former inmates are often still under some form of supervision once they leave the walls of prisons (GPS tracking, intensive parole, etc…). Others who come into contact with the criminal legal system are not incarcerated but are given probation and come under the surveillance of the state too.

We have not discussed these debates in this course because of the limited amount of time that was available to us. I did however want to bring this to your attention in case you are interested in reading more from some of the academics that I mentioned earlier.

Personally, I continue to find the term “Prison Industrial Complex” to be a good frame for discussing the issues that we have over the past five months. This is why I continue to use it. In particular, I rely on Critical Resistance’s definition:

Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) is a term we use to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to what are, in actuality, economic, social, and political ‘problems’.”

I received an e-mail today from Professor Loic Wacquant.  As a sociologist myself, I greatly value engaged dialogue about ideas.  I reached out to Dr. Wacquant and asked if I could post his response here. He graciously agreed.

First congratulations on your activities expanding educational opportunities for those ill served by the official education system.

Second a few corrections on your remarks about my critique of PIC on your blog

1) PRISONS OF POVERTY is not the “short version” of PUNISHING THE POOR but a different book, with a different argument: PTP covers the workfare/prisonfare nexus; PofPov covers the international circulation of US penal categories and policies (for the record: the original version of PofPov was written in 1999, PTP was written in 2009).
2) My criticism of PIC are manifold:
-PIC claims the prison plays a key role in the new capitalist economy: the corrections budget of the US amounts to less than 1% of GDP; if it disappeared it would barely register on the economic radar.
-PIC stresses the exploitation of carceral labor: at peak use, fewer than 0.5% of inmates were employed by private firm. What of the 99.5% remaining?
-PIC makes an analogy with the “military industrial complex” but the Pentagon is a single lever to decide military policy; there is no lever to a single justice system in the US, since every city runs its own police, every county runs its own jail and courts, and every state runs its own prison system. Even if some malevolent entity wanted to control crimjustice it couldn’t!
-firms make money through the provision of punishment, but this is the case for every government function in America. Is there for that reason an “education industrial complex,” a “housing industrial complex,” a “welfare industrial complex,” an “transportation industrial complex,” a “retirement industrial complex,” a “health industrial complex”? What is gained by adding an “IC” to every government function?
-I would argue there is a “health industrial complex” in the US because private interests do dominate health policy in the US. But what is distinctive about punishment, among public functions, is precisely that has remained remarkably public! Indeed, it is more public than welfare, education, medical care, etc.
-PIC draws attention to penal policy in isolation from similar tendencies in social welfare policies and thus obscures their growing interpenetration and convergence.

Altogether I find the PIC designation confused and confusing. Lastly, there is no “pitched battle of ideas” between PIC and rival frameworks. PIC has very little standing among scholars of punishment (except in some sectors of the humanities that do not carry out empirical research). And the “mass incarceration” itself is another misnomer (for my argument in favor of “hyperincarceration” that selects by class first, race second, and place third, see the attached piece on “Race, Class, and Hyperincarceration”).

I greatly appreciate Professor Wacquant’s sending along corrections to my characterization of his critique of the concept of the PIC.  I have read both Prisons of Poverty and Punishing the Poor.  While he is correct that they do not advance the exact same argument, in my opinion, Prisons of Poverty is still the more accessible version of the two books.  If you are a non-sociologist or frankly a non-academic, to me, POP is a better read and it does provide a context for the arguments that were advanced in Punishing the Poor. So I stick by that suggestion that I made to members of the Communiversity class. 

Prof. Wacquant does not see “pitched battles” in academia about the use of the term PIC.  To me, the distinction is between empirical social scientists and the rest of academia that still addresses issues about prisons.  If the battles are not “pitched,” they do exist. 

Anyway, I am thrilled that Prof. Wacquant took the time to write back and am pleased to share his thoughts here on this blog and I will do the same on our PIC Communiversity blog as well.

Finally, Dr. Wacquant shared two articles that I have yet to read but plan to do so in  the next couple of weeks. Perhaps I will even blog about them here… I am sharing them in case others are interested  in reading them as well.

The Body, The Ghetto, & The Penal System

Class, Race, & Hyperincarceration in Revanchist America

If anyone has responses to these ideas, I would be happy to post them on the blog…

Aug 11 2010

Crazy Prison Industrial Complex Fact of the Day: Historical Edition 8/11/10

Data geeks rejoice! I have been working on a popular education project about the prison industrial complex for months now.   As such, I am currently looking at a lot of historical data about incarceration and taking tons of notes.  I thought that some of you might be interested in a couple of charts outlining historical racial differences in incarceration since I have shared so much contemporary data over the past few weeks.  If folks are interested, over the coming days, I can share some detailed charts about incarceration in 1929 (start of the Great Depression), 1945 (the end of World War II) and 1964 (the heart of the black freedom struggle). Leave a comment.

Please note that these charts are based on documented information from the Bureau of Justice Statistics.  The Bureau has created a set of “estimated” numbers as well because some of the state documentation was unavailable or inaccessible.  So the first chart relies on the BJS’s estimates based on the best available documentation that state governments collected at the time.  The second more detailed chart is based solely on documentation that was provided by jurisdictions at the time.  As such, those tallies actually undercount the numbers of prisoners.  Nevertheless they are interesting to look at and to compare to our most recent numbers.  By any measure, you can see how the United States has become over time a prison nation.

Table 5. Estimated imprisonment rate, by race: 1926 versus 1986

1926 1986
Estimated admissions to State and Federal Prisons Estimated resident population Estimated admissions per 100,000 population Estimated admissions to State and Federal prisons Estimated resident population Estimated admissions per 100,000 population
Total 50,312 116,330,000 43 223,883 240,551,200 93
White 37,734 104,201,000 36 122,483 194,748,200 63
Black 12,075 11,381,800 106 98,519 28,844,600 342
Other 503 810,400 62 2,881 16,958.400 17
Source: Race of Prisoners Admitted to State and Federal Institutions, 1926-86

You might find it interesting as you look at the chart below to notice how blacks outnumber whites as prisoners in the southern states of Maryland, Louisiana, Mississippi and Virginia.

For fun, click here to see current data about state prison populations.   For example, in 2009, Illinois had 45,161 prisoners.  In 1926, Illinois had 1,728 prisoners.  Seems quaint doesn’t it?  Hey, some people get excited about winning a trip to Bermuda, I get psyched about data.  To each her own…

Table 7. Sentenced prisoners admitted to State and Federal Institutions, by race, 1926
Jurisdiction Total White Black Other races Race not reported
U.S. total 43,328 33,559 9,274 409 86
Federal 5,010 4,042 641 323 4
State 38,318 28,701 8,633 902 82
Connecticut 401 293 34 0 74
Maine 210 210 0
Massachusetts 826 791 30 5
New Hampshire 33 33
New Jersey 1,170 893 273 3 1
New York 3,290 2,838 433 17 2
Pennsylvania 1,531 1,219 308 4
Rhode Island 197 141 55 1
Vermont 285 281 4
North Central
Illinois 1,728 1,371 352 5
Indiana 1,385 1,144 231 10
Iowa 665 627 38
Kansas 1,253 1,050 186 17
Michigan 3,040 2,355 620 61 4
Minnesota 822 799 14 9
Missouri 1,609 1,213 396
Nebraska 495 454 30 11
North Dakota 210 197 11 2
Ohio 3,180 2,302 871 7
South Dakota 297 262 1 34
Wisconsin 817 778 21 18
Arkansas 998 576 522
Kentucky 1,365 908 467
Louisiana 765 291 471 3
Maryland 1,882 759 1,120 3
Mississippi 649 199 448 2
North Carolina 580 319 256 4 1
Oklahoma 1,680 1,206 390 84
South Carolina 302 161 140 1
Tennessee 253 185 67 1
Virginia 844 361 482 1
West Virginia 854 634 220
Arizona 257 139 21 97
California 1,849 1,466 129 254
Colorado 806 637 41 128
Montana 277 233 16 28
Nevada 123 93 4 26
Oregon 332 314 1 17
Utah 155 133 3 19
Washington 827 775 34 18
Wyoming 76 61 3 12
Source: Race of Prisoners Admitted to State and Federal institutions, 1926-1986

Note: The white U.S. total includes Mexicans, but the Federal and State totals for whites exclude Mexicans.  The “other races” U.S. total excludes Mexicans, but the Federal and State totals for “other races” include Mexicans.

Aug 10 2010

Prisoner Recidivism and the Revolving Door (Cont’d)

Last week, I blogged about the issue of prisoner recidivism and re-entry. I shared data about the states with recidivism rates over 50% for male or female prisoners.

As promised, here is the available data about recidivism rates in other states. Please note that states define recidivism differently and measure it according to their own standards. Massachusetts is the only state where data is available that has a higher recidivism rate for female prisoners than for males. What accounts for this anomaly? I don’t have an answer but it would be interesting to do further investigation into this. 

Additionally, three states have particularly low recidivism rates (IA, PA, and WY).  Pennsylvania’s recidivism number does not count parole violators which I think would increase their rate to be sure.  However if I take the numbers at face value, it would be interesting to know what type of re-entry programs exist in Iowa, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.  We might all have a lot to learn from these states in terms of how to better support former prisoners. This article from the Fond du Lac Reporter offers an example of a local reentry program which seems to have it right. The key is for former prisoners to receive the support they need when they return to their communities and to build strong and positive relationships with good mentors.

Male Female
Alabama 28.7 21.9
Arizona 43.2 35.9
Arkansas 43.3 23.0
Florida 34.7 20.4
Georgia 28.7 24.9
Idaho 33.3 28.7
Indiana 38.4 31.1
Iowa 15.6 9.2
Kentucky 36.2 30.0
Louisiana 46.9 34.2
Massachusetts 39.0 42.0
Minnesota 36.0 33.0
Missouri 39.7 30.7
Montana 41.9 28.1
Nebraska 26.8 18.2
New Hampshire 45.2 34.6
New Mexico 46.2 38.6
New York 42.0 30.0
Ohio 40.0 26.4
Oklahoma 25.0 14.7
Oregon 23.9 21.5
Pennsylvania 10.0 7.0
South Carolina 35.1 22.3
South Dakota 30.7 25.8
Texas 28.0 20.7
Virginia 21.2 14.0
West Virginia 27.6 19.2
Wisconsin 38.9 29.6
Wyoming 10.3 10.3
Source: 2010 Directory of Adult and Juvenile Correctional Departments, Institutions, Agencies and Probation and Parole Authorities

No data could be located for the following states: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, North Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington

Aug 02 2010

Top 10 States with Prisoners Over 55 years old

After reading this post at Prison Law Blog, I decided to research the states with the top percentages of inmates over 55.  Below is a chart of those findings:

Ten States with Highest Percentage of Prisoners over 55
New Hampshire 15.2%
Missouri 14.4%
Kansas 14.2%
Michigan 14.0%
Alabama 13.0%
Utah 12.7%
Nebraska 12.5%
Kentucky 12.0%
Minnesota 11.0%
Idaho 10.4%
Source: 2010 Directory of Adult and Juvenile Correctional Departments, Institutions, Agencies and Probation and Parole Authorities

Boy it’s great to have my laptop and access to WIFI at this tedious conference…

Jul 27 2010

A useful resource for anti-prison activist data geeks: state corrections statistics

I am unabashedly obsessed with data and in particular with data visualization. While other kids were reading the Babysitters’ Club book series, I was reading the Atlas of the World. I was fascinated by maps and by numbers. I never grew out of that.

I hope that other data geeks (who have much better design skills than I do) will gravitate towards an interest in abolishing prisons. We need better tools to help the general public visualize and conceptualize the massive scale and impact of the prison industrial complex.

In the meantime, the National Institute of Corrections has a handy tool to help anyone find state corrections statistics.