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Illinois Fact Sheet:

The Effect of Imprisonment on Crime
By Lauren-Brooke Eisen, Julia Bowling*

A new Brennan Center report, entitled What Caused the Crime Decline?, examines 14 different theories
for the massive decline in crime across the country over the last two decades. It provides a rigorous
empirical analysis conducted by a team of economics and criminal justice researchers on over 40
years of data, gathered from all 50 states and the 50 largest cities.
New Report Findings
Over the past 40 years, states across the country have sought to fight crime by implementing policies
to increase incarceration. The result: The United States is now the largest jailor in the world. With 5
percent of the worlds population, we have 25 percent of its prisoners.
In Illinois, the prison population grew three-fold from 1980 to 2012. In 2013, the prison population
decreased slightly by 700 prisoners, still leaving Illinois with 48,653 state prisoners. Illinois spent
$1.295 billion on corrections in 2013.
At the same time, crime in Illinois dropped by 57 percent from its height in 1991 to 2013. And the
national crime rate was cut in half.
What caused this drop? Was it the explosion in incarceration? Or was it something else?
The reports central findings:

Increased incarceration had a limited effect on reducing crime for the last two
decades: Increased incarceration had some effect, likely somewhere around 0-10 percent,
on reducing crime from 1990 to 2000. Since 2000, however, increased incarceration had an
almost zero effect on crime. Further, a number of states, including California, Michigan,
New Jersey, New York, and Texas, have successfully reduced imprisonment while crime
continued to fall.
Other factors reduced crime: Increased numbers of police officers, some data-driven
policing techniques, changes in income, decreased alcohol consumption, and an aging

* Lauren-Brooke Eisen is Counsel and Julia Bowling is Research Associate at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. They
are co-authors of What Caused the Crime Decline?

population played a role in reducing crime. In particular, this report finds that the policing
technique known as CompStat is associated with a 5 to 15 percent decrease in crime. A
review of past research indicates that consumer confidence and inflation also likely
contributed to crime reduction.
Incarceration & Crime in Illinois
As illustrated in Figure 1, Illinois imprisons 378 people per 100,000, a higher rate than the U.S. at
In 2009, Illinois enacted the Illinois Crime Reduction Act aimed at reducing its prison population.
The comprehensive reform package was based on the premise that local jurisdictions judicial
circuits or counties know best what resources are necessary to reduce crime. 1 Most notably, it
created Adult Redeploy Illinois, a program to divert adults to alternatives to incarceration. The state
invested $2 million in incentive funding as awards to counties that use community-based diversion
programs, instead of prison sentences, for non-violent offenders. The program saved an estimated
$17 million annually, and in 2014 was expanded to 34 counties, receiving a total of $7 million in
grant funding.
Figure 1: Imprisonment Rates in Illinois and the U.S. (1980-2013)

As shown in Figure 2, as incarceration rose from 1980 (when Illinois had 11,899 prisoners), the
effectiveness of increased incarceration adding new prisoners steadily declined. By 1997,
imprisonment increased 243 percent to 40,788 prisoners, and effectiveness on crime declined to
essentially zero. The marginal effect on crime of adding more people to prisons remains at zero
This reports findings support further reforms to reduce Illinois incarcerated population and show
this can be achieved without added crime.


Figure 2: Effectiveness of Imprisonment on Crime in Illinois (1980-2013)

Policing & Crime

One policing approach, CompStat, which instills strong management and data-driven practices,
played a role in bringing down crime in cities where implemented. The introduction of CompStatstyle programs was responsible for a 5 to 15 percent decrease in crime in the 50 largest cities
CompStat was widely implemented in American cities starting in the 1990s. CompStat was
introduced in Chicago in 2011.
Little analysis has been conducted on the effectiveness of how police fight crime. CompStat is one of
the most consistent, easily identifiable, and widespread policing techniques employed during the
time period under examination. Although different cities deploy it differently, the general objective is
the same: to implement strong management and accountability within police departments to execute
strategies based in robust data collection to reduce and prevent crime. In addition, our research
showed increased numbers of police officers also played a role in reducing crime.
Public and political pressure to effectively fight crime and improve public safety has been used to
justify incarceration despite the economic and human toll. This report finds that this one-size fits
all use of imprisonment to punish crime has passed the point of diminishing returns. In essence,
adding more and more people to prison is no longer producing the expected crime control benefits.
As state budgets grow tighter, government should invest in policies that achieve their intended goals.
Prioritizing modern, evidence-based criminal justice policies with record of success over costly and
ineffective over-incarceration seems to be the best way forward in Illinois and nationwide.


Crime Reduction Act, ILL. DEPT OF CORR., http://www2.illinois.gov/idoc/Pages/CrimeReductionAct.aspx; see also

Illinois Crime Reduction Act of 2009, Pub. Act 096-0761 (signed into law Aug. 25, 2009), available at