Taxpayers have shelled out an estimated $5.3 billion in the past decade just to incarcerate Chicago citizens who have been convicted of felony offenses, a vast majority of which are non-violent crimes, a new analysis by NBC 5 Investigates and The Chicago Reporter reveals.
The investigation also reveals that a disproportionate amount of that money goes to incarcerate Chicagoans who hail from a small fraction of the city’s blocks. These are frequently people who repeatedly cycle in and out of prison, and who — because they are convicted felons — have few options to find legitimate work when they return to their already-depressed neighborhoods.
Faced with this staggering cost of repeatedly incarcerating a relatively small number of the city’s residents, a growing number of experts are now pushing for a different way to spend — and possibly save — some of this money.
Take the Austin neighborhood, on Chicago’s far west side. This once-middle-class community is now one of the most impoverished and crime-ridden areas of the city. Yet it’s also one of the priciest: The Chicago Reporter / NBC 5 analysis found that taxpayers spent an estimated $644 million to house convicted criminals, just from Austin, in prison since 2000. That’s 11 percent of prison money, spent on a neighborhood that makes up just 3.5 percent of the city’s population.