Is criminal incarceration the best way to spend Chicago tax dollars?

Illinois taxpayers spend at least $300 million a year on prison cells for inmates from just five Chicago neighborhoods, and that's a conservative estimate.

Some say the total cost is far higher.

As FOX 32’s Political Editor Mike Flannery reports, those who mapped out the numbers think there's a better way to use all those tax dollars. 

In dark red on a map of Chicago are 851 city blocks, most heavily on the West Side. To imprison residents of each of those blocks, Illinois taxpayers spent more than a million dollars in recent years.

There are 121 Chicago blocks where it cost a million bucks just to lock up non-violent, drug offenders. Those who mapped the million-dollar blocks say all this spending is not making Chicago safer.

“I think you can cut and use some of those savings to reinvest into programs. Because they're all cheaper than locking people up and more cost effective,” said Daniel Cooper of the Adler University Institute.

A few miles west of Downtown, FOX 32 talked to Cooper on a block at Chicago and Long where so many residents have gone to state prison that it cost Illinois taxpayers more than $2 million to incarcerate them from 2005-2009.

The cost to house all the state inmates from the Austin neighborhood: a mind-numbing $550 million. 

FOX 32: Were you surprised the number's that big?

“Yeah, I have to say I was,” said Darnell Shields of Austin Coming Together.

A local activist, Shields wants career criminals put behind bars. But, he says, some neighbors who've repeatedly cycled in and out of prison, might stay out if they were treated for learning disabilities or mental illness, or were taught legitimate job skills.

“If you're going to have this type of money being spent on the system to lock people up, it needs to serve the community in the best way,” Shields.

A commission appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner to look at these issues met on Thursday. The Cook County Board's Kimberly Foxx urged members to study the map of Chicago's million-dollar crime blocks.

“With a half-a-billion dollars, imagine what we could do for the people who live in those communities. And not just for a small segment who continue to terrorize,” said Foxx.

Gov. Rauner's Commission is supposed to file its final report by January.

Cutting money will be welcome, but transferring it to other uses will be very difficult. Rauner, for example, has proposed deep cuts in addiction treatment.

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