“How mass incarceration creates ‘million dollar blocks’ in poor neighborhoods”

“This is the perverse form that public investment takes in many poor, minority neighborhoods: “million dollar blocks,” to use a bleak term first coined in New York by Laura Kurgan at Columbia University and Eric Cadora of the Justice Mapping Center. Our penchant for incarcerating people has grown so strong that, in many cities, taxpayers frequently spend more than a million dollars locking away residents of a single city block.
In Chicago, Daniel Cooper, Ryan Lugalia-Hollon, Matt Barrington and the civic technology company DataMade have reprised the concept for one of the most divided cities in America . By their count, there are 851 blocks in Chicago where the public has committed more than a million dollars to sentencing residents to state prison for all kinds of crime. The total tops a million dollars for nonviolent drug offenses alone in 121 of those blocks…
What if we spent $2.2 million dollars not removing residents from the corner of West Madison and Cicero but investing in the people who live there? What if we spent that money on preschool and summer jobs programs and addiction treatment? Evidence suggests that such investments could do more to deter crime than locking people away.
“People hear that there’s a very big violence problem in Chicago, but nobody’s really talking about the drivers of it,” says Cooper, the co-executive director of the Institute for Social Exclusion at Adler University in Chicago. “They’re talking about the individuals who take part in shootings. But nobody’s asking the question, ‘why are there shootings in the first place?’ What’s further upstream? What are the bigger determinants of this problem?”
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