Prof. Randolph Stone and Maya Powe, '17, on Prison Alternatives to Solving Chicago Violence

Prison remains a shallow solution

Do I want to get caught with it or without it? That's the tragic and unfortunate question that some people in Chicago's most hazardous neighborhoods ask themselves. Caught with it may mean jail and prison time, without it could mean serious injury or death. The "it" is a handgun.

"Increased prison sentences for gun offenders" is not the answer to the question. Illinois already has some of the harshest penalties in the country. Those convicted of violent crimes are serving increasingly longer periods of time with gun enhancements requiring those convicted to serve 100 percent of their sentences. Are we safer? Haven't we proved that we cannot incarcerate our way out of the crime problem?

Illinois is now spending more than $1.3 billion on its prison system. There are approximately 44,000 people in Illinois' prisons, a 30,000 person increase since 1983 when there were only 14,000 in prison. African-Americans are about 14.7 percent of Illinois' population but about 57 percent of the prison population. Nearly 30,000 people leave prison every year and the recidivism rate is about 50 percent, meaning that half the people who leave are back in prison within three years. Moreover, almost 90 percent of the people in prison are released at some point to return to society. Many are returning to the most segregated, most economically bereft and most resource-deprived areas of Chicago.

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