Archive for the ‘Chicago’ Category

Preventing recidivism

Posted: April 13, 2011 in Chicago

For four years, the Decatur Correctional Center has run the “Moms and Babies” program, a strategy implemented by the prison to prevent imprisoned mothers from committing crimes again and returning to prison after their reentry into society.

According to the Illinois Department of Correction, “no offender who has been part of this program has returned to prison on new charges since the program’s inception.”

Essentially, the program allows for mothers to keep their babies after giving birth during their incarceration. However, participating mothers must have a projected release date set for sometime before their babies turn 24 months old. In conjunction with prison programs that teach parenting skills, the Decatur Correction Center encourages fathers of the children to visit prison often to participate in the same parenting workshops.

According to the IDOC, “Giving the mother and child the ability to bond, teaching mothers parenting skills in a supportive environment and working on how to overcome obstacles that offenders may encounter upon release from prison are just a few of the goals of the program. Studies show that success in accomplishing these objectives leads to the mother’s successful re-integration into society and results in lower recidivism rates.”

The IDOC and Decatur also ran a program in 2010 with Richland Community College, where 62 females inmates received their GEDs or college certificates.

Ultimately, as we’ve discussed all semester long, the prison system of the U.S. is philosophically split between control and prevention, and reform and reentry. These programs that the IDOC runs are intended to move people from prisons and back out into society. The ramifications–fewer people in prison, and therefore fewer costs to taxpayers; reducing the number of a segment of people who are wholly dependent upon the State for their livelihoods–seemingly outweigh the costs.

Would anyone be opposed to keeping mothers and their babies together? (Assuming, of course, a healthy parent-child relationship.) Would anyone be able to mount a rational defense for splitting up mothers and babies? (Again, assuming a healthy parent-child relationship and favorable prospects that the mother won’t return to prison, both of which are stipulations required by the IDOC.)

We’ve also discussed how we begin shaping a conversation about changing our country’s prison system. It overwhelmingly appears that a lack of information keeps in place society’s stereotypical conceptions and perceptions about prison and prisoners. It wasn’t until I actively went and sought out instances of prisoner reentry programs that I found two sponsored by the IDOC. And I only did that because it was a class requirement. Would I have done so if I weren’t being graded? Would anyone do so?

Like the aggravated police officer who visited our class and lamented that the press focuses too closely on crimes committed and not closely enough on community initiatives–toy drives, food bank drives, etc.–run by police officers, perhaps the press should consider expanding its coverage of the prison system. That might be the first step in some sort of effort to reforming the U.S. prison system (which is purportedly a reformatory system, and not just a holding cell for a nationwide class of criminals). Maybe the more people know about programs that allow for successful reentry of prisoners back into society, the more the mindset–prisoners are guilty and need to remain behind bars–will be begin to change.

This isn’t a call for pardoning crimes. It is, however, a call for analyzing the reasons why certain people commit some sorts of crimes, and then exposing whether our prison system–as the argument in Texas Tough goes–indirectly encourages and incubates violence, or whether it really is working to get people out, and then keep people out, of prison–something you cannot do if you don’t give people something to live for (mothers and babies; an education; a pathway to a different life).


According to a September 2010 article on, crime rates over the last 15 years have dropped dramatically while prison rates in the U.S. have soared. The article “Rough Justice,” from The Economist, identifies this same trend. This country holds some 2 million prisoners, and about another 5 million people are serving parole or probation sentences.

What appears counter-intuitive, almost immediately, is how the incarceration rate could be increasing while the crime rate is decreasing. In that same Economist article from 2010, the author cites one statistic from Florida: over the past 13 years, violent crime has decreased by 28 percent. But the rate of people incarcerated for “‘other’ crimes” increased by 189 percent. The author notes that “raising the incarceration rate means locking up people who are, on average, less dangerous than the ones already behind bars.” In other words, if crime rates are indeed falling, the only ostensible way to have an increased incarceration rate is to lock up people for pettier crimes (like, for instance, drug possession, as opposed to homicide).

In Chicago, a similar trend exists. A technical report issued in 2005 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics compares the crime rates of the country’s three largest metropolitan areas–New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago–over an 18-year period from 1980 to 1998. Over that time Chicago saw decreases in its burglary and robbery rates; the report states, “Both police and victim survey data for the Chicago metropolitan area suggest that robbery rates were lower in the late 1990s compared to the early 1980s” (6). Rates of aggravated assaults in Chicago were also lower in the late 1990s compared to the early 1980s (7).

So, theoretically, this should indicate a drop in the incarceration rate in Chicago come 2000–if crime is seemingly on a downswing, then the rate of incarceration should follow.

But according to the article from ScienceNews, this paradox between incarceration and crime rates has been something “largely ignored.” The author reports the findings of Harvard University sociologist Robert Sampson:

Certain disadvantaged sections of cities have acted as incarceration hot spots in the midst of a general downturn in crime, Sampson reported at a press conference August 16 at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting.

Ballooning incarceration rates in these poor, predominantly black neighborhoods, especially among young men, create a sense of collective cynicism and fatalism that fuels further misconduct and imprisonment, Sampson said.

What Sampson’s findings suggest is that incarceration rates are skewed upwards by outliers (the outliers being poor neighborhoods Sampson identifies as “incarceration hot spots”).

In Chicago, according to the ScienceNews article, crime data between 1990 and 1995 shows a decrease in the rate of crime, but the incarceration data for that same period reveals an increasing number of people in the Chicago area heading to prison.

The cause, as Sampson identifies, comes back to his concept of “incarceration hot spots”:

Chicago crime data for 1990 to 1995 show that a large majority of prison and jail populations came from two poor, black sections of the city, Sampson and Loeffler found. During that time, overall rates of crime and violence declined in Chicago while incarceration rates rose in those two areas.

So, one answer to one question that continues to predominate in this class–why has the United States’ incarceration rate risen so much?–is revealed through this paradox of decreasing crime rates versus increasing incarceration rates. Areas of high crime in urban locations appears to skew the incarceration rate upwards, since a higher proportion of people living in “incarceration hot spots” are arrested, convicted and imprisoned, compared to suburban areas or other locations in, for instance, Chicago, that do not have high incarceration rates.

A Brighter Future for Chicago?

Posted: March 23, 2011 in Chicago

It’s amazing how many articles we can find with statistics of how many prisoners return to jail after they serve their time, but never do we stumble upon any rehabilitation efforts being made to get these people back into the community. Finally, Chicago has developed a plan that addresses the flaws in the system and even outlined what needs to be done by all parties involved. The plan: Breaking the cycle of incarceration and building brighter futures in Chicago.

The following is a presentation from the city of Chicago’s mayor office for practical and policy responses targeted towards Individuals with Criminal Backgrounds…

Handgun laws are misguided

Posted: March 16, 2011 in Chicago

In July 2010, Chicago put into effect a new law outlining the parameters in which residents could own guns. The new law came just after the Supreme Court ruled that the city’s ban on handguns was unconstitutional. The new law in Chicago bans gun shops from the city limits and prohibits gun owners from stepping outside their homes with their handguns.

But for as much arguing as people do back and forth in this country about handgun regulation, is the solution really to ban handguns entirely? Won’t criminals who feel they need a gun always find a way to get a gun, and therefore break the law anyway? For a law-abiding citizen, who only wants to carry around a handgun for personal protection, what good is a law banning handguns outside the home doing him/her?

Take, for instance, the number of murders in Chicago in 2006 compared to 2008. According to the aggregation site, 201 people were murdered in 2006; in 2008, 510 people were murdered.

How many of those murders might have been prevented if the victim had been carrying around a handgun? (Bear in mind, before Chicago’s new law in 2010, the city had in effect a city-wide ban on handguns.)

I think Marc Lamont Hill offers one of the better criticisms of stringent handgun regulation. His interpretation follows the same vein:

Laws are put into effect to create order in society. Law-abiding citizens obey laws. If you make it so that law-abiding citizens cannot carry around personal protection (i.e. handguns), what makes you think a criminal is going to stop carrying around a handgun just because there is a law banning them?


Posted: March 16, 2011 in Chicago

According to the crime aggregation site EveryBlock Chicago, the Windy City had a total of 5,050 reported crimes from March 1 through March 6.

The limits of coerced interrogation

Posted: March 16, 2011 in Chicago

In Chicago, former police commander Jon Burge could be ordered to federal prison today for perjury and obstruction of justice crimes he committed last summer. Particularly in question are allegations that he either tortured or allowed the torture of two men, according to Natasha Korecki, the federal courts reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Jail Jon Burge sign

There are three separate points of contention that make this case more noteworthy: one is the obvious nature of whom is being convicted; the second is the fact that the “what” being investigated–torture–has been in the national conversation since our country’s involvement in Iraq; and the third is the terse and tense dynamic that exists between reporters and police officials, a dynamic alluded to by Officer Jonathan Walter when he visited the class.

Essentially, the broad, perhaps more philosophical question that needs asking is what constitutes torture in Burge’s case. The next question is whether such conduct was used to force an admission of guilt even if the tortured party isn’t guilty. From the reports out there, the answer seems to be that Burge arbitrarily (and purportedly) tortured African-American suspects in 2008, and then lied about doing so in the summer of 2010.

And if this is all true, then what we’re looking at here–in the context of our in-class discussions regarding our views of the criminal justice system–is yet another power struggle between citizens and the state. Who owns power? How do citizens equip themselves against the state? And what is our role as journalists?

Presumably, that role should be to act as the oft-mentioned “fourth estate,” the “watchdogs” of democratic processes. How do we do that in an era of newsroom budget cuts and fewer beat reporters?

Chicago Gov. Bans Death Penalty

Posted: March 16, 2011 in Chicago

On March 9, 2011, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill that would ban the death penalty for good in the state of Illinois. Gov. Quinn says this was a particularly hard decision to literally choose between life and death, but in the end he is happy with his decision.

“This was not a decision to be made lightly, or a decision that I came to without deep personal reflection.”

“Since our experience has shown that there is no way to design a perfect death penalty system, free from the numerous flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions or discriminatory treatment, I have concluded that the proper course of action is to abolish it,” Quinn wrote. “With our broken system, we cannot ensure justice is achieved in every case.””For the same reason, I have also decided to commute the sentences of those currently on death row to natural life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole or release,” the governor wrote.

Currently, there are 14 states in the U.S. that have banned the death penalty.


(Chicago Tribune)