Feb 01 2012

Bursting at the Seams: Illinois’ Prisons Are Overflowing Partly Due to Craven Politicians…

Take a look at the graph below. This is the result of many bad policy decisions but one stands out in particular…

Some months ago, I wrote about the cowardice of Illinois politicians and the corruption of the media in a post about the suspension of the state’s meritorious good time (MGT) program. Sure enough as many (including me) predicted, this disastrous political decision has had the effect of increasing the Illinois prison population by nearly 4,000 at an additional cost of nearly $100 million. I am of course not Nostrodamus. This was a completely foreseeable consequence of a dumb decision made by our Governor.

I attended a meeting about Illinois prison overcrowding on Monday and Malcolm Young once again spoke about the importance of reinstating MGT. He has written a new white paper (PDF) which is essential reading for anyone who is interested in the background on MGT, the political controversy and the consequences of the suspension of the program.

In the coming days, please look out for an opportunity to help push the Governor to instruct the Department of Corrections to reinstate MGT. I will be sharing the template of a letter that you can send to Governor Quinn as well as other ways that you can make your voice heard on this matter if you live in Illinois.

UPDATE: You can urge Governor Quinn to reinstate MGT by e-mailing, calling, sending a letter or signing a petition. Information is HERE.

Jan 26 2012

The High Costs Of Locking People Up…More Evidence

NEW YORK, Jan. 26, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ — Other state agencies cover billions in corrections expenses

State taxpayers pay, on average, 14 percent more on prisons than corrections department budgets reflect, according to a report released today by the Vera Institute for Justice. The report, The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers, found that among the 40 states that responded to a survey, the total fiscal year 2010 taxpayer cost of prisons was $38.8 billion, $5.4 billion more than in state corrections budgets for that year. When all costs are considered, the annual average taxpayer cost in these states was $31,166 per inmate.

While it is common knowledge that some prison costs are tracked outside their budgets, The Price of Prisons marks the first time these costs have been quantified for prisons across the states. To calculate the total price of prisons, Vera developed a survey tool that tallied costs outside corrections budgets. The most common of these costs were fringe benefits, underfunded contributions for corrections employees’ pension and retiree health care plans, inmate health care, capital projects, legal costs, and inmate education and training.

“This new tool changes the equation. It paints a far more accurate picture of the costs to taxpayers,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Center on the States. “State leaders already have been questioning whether corrections spending passes the cost-benefit test, especially for nonviolent offenders.”

The scale of the expenditures outside of corrections departments ranged from less than 1 percent of the total cost of Arizona’s prison budget to as much as 34 percent in Connecticut. For example, the Connecticut Department of Corrections spent $613.3 million for prisons in fiscal year 2010; when all state costs are included, the total taxpayer cost was $929.4 million. The main outside costs were pension contributions ($147.1 million) and employee fringe benefits, including health insurance ($104.2 million). (For more information, see the fact sheets for states that completed the survey at www.vera.org/priceofprisons .)

The study found the following range of prison costs outside states’ corrections budgets in 2010:

20 to 34 percent in six states: Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas;

10 to 19.9 percent in nine states: Arkansas, California, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington, and West Virginia; and

5 to 9.9 percent in nine states and less than 5 percent in 16 states.

“As states continue to deal with serious budget constraints, it’s critical that policy makers, corrections officials, taxpayers, and legislators know exactly what their prisons cost,” says Vera director Michael Jacobson. “Many states are moving toward reserving incarceration for the most dangerous people and using proven strategies to improve public safety at a lower cost.”

To help policy makers manage prison costs, the report identifies a number of measures that states have taken to reduce spending while maintaining public safety. Options include modifying sentencing and release policies, strengthening strategies to reduce recidivism, and boosting operating efficiencies.

The publication is based on a survey conducted in August 2011 by Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections and Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit, in partnership with the Pew Public Safety Performance Project. The report includes detailed methodology that state officials may use to calculate the full taxpayer price of prisons each year.

SOURCE Pew Center on the States
REPORT: http://www.vera.org/download?file=3407/the-price-of-prisons.pdf
Download the report and fact sheets for each participating state at www.vera.org/priceofprisons.

PARTICIPATING STATES: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho. Illinois
Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland Michigan, Minnesota ,Missouri ,Montana ,Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma , Pennsylvania Rhode Island Texas, Utah, Vermont ,Virginia, Washington, West Virginia , Wisconsin
Copyright (C) 2012 PR Newswire. All rights reserved

Nov 30 2011

Pitting Prisoners Against Students in the Era of Austerity

Question: What message would you say this infographic is trying to convey?

A. We should provide more resources to support Michigan students’ education while still treating prisoners humanely.
B. We should divert resources from prisoners in Michigan because they are living in luxury while our children suffer.
C. We should decarcerate Michigan so that we can devote adequate resources to Michigan students.

[I’ll bet that the answer is neither A nor C.]



May 25 2011

Visualizing California’s Crowded Prisons

Once again, the New York Times comes through for me with data visualization:

May 16 2011

The Lost Years: The Elderly in Prisons

Last week, I went to Cook County Jail to visit a young man who is currently being detained there. I absolutely hate that place but that is a story for another day. Anyway, as I was meeting with this young man, I noticed an older black inmate who was talking with a younger woman. This man looked to be at least 65 years old and I just felt sad.

by Billy Dee

I have previously written about the plight of elderly prisoners on this blog. Today another interesting article about this topic was published in Corrections Magazine.

The following paragraphs are the most interesting parts of the piece to me:

As of 2010, 13% of inmates in our prison system were over 55 years old.(1) This number is predicted to increase between four and seven times in the next 20 years, becoming the fastest growing prisoner age group.(2) By 2030, it is estimated that 1/3 of the entire US prison population – currently estimated at 1.6M – will be 55 years or older.(2)

In addition, studies have found incarceration accelerates the aging process by an average of 11.5 years.(3) Compared to younger prisoners; older inmates have higher rates of mild and serious health conditions. Due to deteriorating health, aging inmates have special needs. These needs range from medication and special diets to round the clock nursing, driving costs of managing an elderly prisoner to an estimated $70,000 annually – this is 3x the cost of regular inmates.(4)

These are staggering numbers.

Note: The illustration in this post is from a new zine called “the PIC Is” which can be downloaded for free here.

Apr 18 2011

Raising Awareness about Youth Incarceration With Mud Stencils…

I was privileged to speak to a group of first-year art students from the School of the Art Institute a couple of weeks ago. I shared my organization’s view about how art is integral to the struggle for social justice. The students later informed me that as part of their class they were supposed to undertake a community service project. They selected my organization as the beneficiary of their efforts. They decided to create mud stencils to educate the public about the costs of youth incarceration in Illinois. I am really grateful to these young people for their commitment to justice and for sharing their creativity with the public. Below is a description of their experience written by one of the students who sent this to me along with some photographs of the results of their work:

These are the pictures from our mud stenciling. We put them around the Wicker Park area. It was a really interesting process. People stopped to ask us what was going on and after we were done, we saw some people reading them from far away. We even got stopped by the cops about 5 times! We had to explain that what we were doing was legal and for public awareness against youth incarceration. (Some did not seem to agree with us very much). But overall it was a lot of fun and hopefully shed some light and awareness! It was a great intro project into getting involved with the Chicago community and we all look forward to working with [your organization] in the future.

Jan 29 2011

Andrew Cuomo’s Very Short Career as a Prison Reformer Comes To An End…

According to the New York Times, newly sworn-in Governor Andrew Cuomo is already scaling back his plans to close several New York prisons.

Cuomo came into office talking tough about closing prisons in his state:

In his Jan. 5 address to the Legislature, Mr. Cuomo said that “an incarceration program is not an employment program.”

“If people need jobs, let’s get people jobs,” he added. “Don’t put other people in prison to give some people jobs. Don’t put other people in juvenile justice facilities to give some people jobs. That’s not what this state is all about, and that has to end this session.”

On Friday, his administration had little to say publicly on the matter.

What happened you might ask… Well once again, let’s turn to the New York Times:

Republicans have certainly made their feelings clear about any potential closings.

“We recognize that this is going to be a tough budget with real cuts, and we just hope that these cuts are equally distributed around the state,” said Senator Thomas W. Libous, a Binghamton Republican and the deputy majority leader.

“I do think the governor understands the prison issue,” he added. “I know he understands the prison issue is always a sensitive one to upstate.”

Why is closing prisons a “sensitive” issue in Upstate New York?

Senator Betty Little, a Republican whose district includes much of the Adirondacks, said the economic effects had to be considered. “The area I represent is northern New York, it’s very rural, and we built an economy around these facilities, first of all because no one else wanted them in their neighborhoods and because the land was cheap,” she said. “Hopefully when they look at closure, they look at economic impact. I’m not trying to create inmates to keep these places open, but we need to look at the whole picture.”

I guess that Governor Cuomo was wrong… Prisons ARE in fact employment programs…

Oct 11 2010

Once More With Feeling…Dear Rural America, Prisons Are Not Your Salvation

I am forced to once again comment on the fact that rural towns in America are being sold a bill of goods with respect to the proposition that prisons will be their hope for economic recovery.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post titled “Dear Small Town America, Private Prisons Do Not Lead to Economic Recovery.” Now I find that I have to reiterate my argument.

I just read this AP article over the weekend titled “Dying Communities See Salvation in New Prisons.

For some, like Secinore, there is hope the prison could take away some of the sting, providing jobs and business opportunities. It’s expected to employ about 330 workers, with 60 percent — about 200 — coming from New Hampshire; the rest would be brought in from other federal prisons.

Others aren’t as hopeful. Back in 2002, Berlin residents voted in favor of a proposal to bring in a federal prison. Today, strict requirements for the jobs, among them that employees be hired before age 37, have diminished some of the excitement.

In the immortal words of Flavor Flav, all I can say is brothers and sisters don’t believe the hype. Folks in urban centers and small towns across the U.S. need to mobilize a social movement for economic justice. That is the answer. Not more prisons. How can we get poor people in Appalachia to understand that their liberation is inextricably linked to that of the young black man in North Lawndale and the migrant farmworker in California? The attempt to sell prisons as an engine for economic development is destructive and will not lead to SALVATION for these small towns.

The article suggests that the research is limited and unclear about the economic impact of prisons on localities. It points out however that whatever research is out there points to modest or negative results.

Although rural communities have successfully lobbied for — and built — prisons for years, not many studies have been done on their economic impact. Some studies indicate slight economic gains for some prison towns, according to a Congressional Research Service report in April. Others that have become prison anchors might have not grown as fast as those without prisons.

UPDATE: I received an e-mail from my friend Julia about this post. She made several important and relevant points so I want to share some of those here :

First off, I absolutely agree with the post and am grateful to see you writing about the issue of prisons in small rural towns and the connections to our urban centers. In Letcher Co., KY, where I was living before I came back to Chicago, there are plans to build another federal prison (FCI Letcher) and there’s a lot of uncertainty about what’s actually happening, what stage they’re in, etc. And there’s a lot of community support for the prison. As the coal industry leaves more and more people unemployed and young people have no option, prisons are seen as the only economically viable option. Lies about their benefits are not only promoted by the BOP and DOC, but through the schools (taking classes of middle school students to tour the prisons so they can see what a great job they could possibly have), and local talk. With such a large percentage of people with drug addictions (Oxycontin especially) in eastern KY, there’s even more people ineligible to be employed in the facilities, but that’s not the part of the equation they talk about in the info sessions. So people support it. They see it as the next way out.

But, there’s also a fairly vocal number of people against the construction of another prison in the region. They’ve witnessed the destruction in McCreary Co, where the prison was built on the top of a formerly strip mined mountain and the ground was unstable and the prison started to sink. They’ve seen that local people didn’t actually get jobs and that it didn’t promote the economic well-being of the town. They’ve seen the same thing in Martin County. And across the border in VA they’ve seen it in Big Stone Gap and Pound.

Aug 06 2010

Prison Cell or Hotel Room: 10 States with Highest Average Daily Costs per Prisoner

Josh MacPhee - Just Seeds Artists' Cooperative

If you are curious to know what type of hotel accommodations you could afford for the cost of incarcerating prisoners in various states, then this is the post for you.  A quick check of hotels.com allowed me to find hotel rooms that mirror the daily costs of incarcerating a prisoner in the U.S.  Pay particular attention to all of the amenities that each hotel room comes equipped with in order to understand what an insane waste of resources incarceration really is.  We need to find another way to address the root causes of violence and crime.

Ten States with Highest Average Daily Costs per Prisoner
New York $152.52 The Pod Hotel New York
Vermont $139.00 Towneplace Suites Burlington
Rhode Island $138.40 Hilton Providence
Alaska $134.21 Inlet Tower Hotel
Massachusetts $125.90 Suburban Extended Stay Logan Airport
California $123.41 Hilton Los Angeles
Maine $120.86 La Quinta Inn & Suites
Wyoming $118.13 Historic Plains Hotel
Maryland $105.90 Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel
New Jersey $105.47 Marriott Courtyard Atlantic City
Source: 2010 Directory of Adult and Juvenile Correctional Departments, Institutions, Agencies and Probation and Parole Authorities
Aug 04 2010

Prisoner Health Care Costs Continue to Increase & Companies Keep Profiting…

I think that one of the ways that those of us who want to see prisons abolished have to make our case is by emphasizing the high budgetary cost of incarceration. I have tried in this blog to document these economic costs in a variety of ways.

Prisoner health care costs have been a topic of interest for me for some time. In fact, during the recent Congressional health care reform debate, I researched the costs of prisoner health care and found some interesting numbers.

Highest Average Annual Expenditure Per Prisoner for Health Care
Washington $7,773
Massachusetts $7,389
Wyoming $7,257
Minnesota $6,800
Nebraska $6,462
Oregon $6,021
New Jersey $5,508
Source: Corrections Compendium, Winter 2009

Earlier this week, I posted information about the states with the highest percentages of prisoners over 55 years old. It seems that the correlation between having a high percentage of older inmates and paying higher health care costs per prisoner is not strong. Only Minnesota and Nebraska appear on both lists.

I then wanted to investigate whether states that spent a high percentage of their total department of corrections’ budget for prisoner care also appear to have a high percentage of aging inmates. The correlation there is also not strong. Only Alabama which spends about 30% of its total budget on prison health care costs appears also on the list of states with the highest percentage of inmates over 55.

Highest Percentage Allocated from Total Department of Corrections’ Budget for Prisoner Health Care
Alabama 30%
Massachusetts 25.6%
Wyoming 18.7%
Minnesota 18.67%
Nebraska 18.22%
Oregon 17.32%
Source: Corrections Compendium, Winter 2009

I noticed while attending the ACA Conference that many of the exhibitors were heath care-related and pharmaceutical companies.  Aetna can obviously make a whole lot of money in this racket and so can many other companies.  Another example of the prison industrial complex at work.