Crime Is Down In Chicago After Coronavirus-Related Jail Releases

By: Don Stemen

COVID Crime Jail Populations May 21, 2020

Law enforcement policy has too often been decided in a data vacuum, in large part due to a lack of sophistication and transparency in how policing data are publicly released.

At the same time, safety-related jail releases of defendants charged with low-level felonies to protect them from the spread of the Coronavirus offer an unprecedented discrete opportunity to test common assumptions about whether releasing people before trial necessarily leads to an uptick in crime.

In the absence of crime data, such early concerns were raised about a possible crime wave related to Coronavirus jail releases, but it turns out that those fears have not been borne out by actual statistics, which we’ve been tracking in Chicago on a weekly basis and reporting on a website.

Instead, the data in Chicago shows a marked drop in overall crime since Coronavirus jail releases began, with total reported incidents down more than 30 percent.

At the same time, since March 15, the Cook County jail population is also down 28 percent, to a level not seen since the early 1980s:

The data also show statistically significant reductions in seven out of 12 of the most frequent offense types, particularly arrests for non-marijuana drug offenses:

Chicago and Cook County Justice agencies began containment policies on March 17, when Cook County began a reassessment of bond for primarily non-violent offenders. On March 24th, the Chicago Police Department directed officers to reduce police stops and issue citations in lieu of low-level misdemeanor arrests.

Concerns of a crime wave have been raised primarily by law enforcement agencies, although early analysis by the Marshall Project suggested the opposite trend, with reported crime down across the country in major cities. And our own analysis bolsters that.

However, there is also interesting nuance in the data that aligns with underlying structural issues that COVID-19 have illustrated in regards to public health.

The Chicago Tribune found, for example, after filing a public records request, that the police department issued more Coronavirus dispersal orders in Chicago’s West Side neighborhoods, which are markedly more populated by African American people on lower incomes. These neighborhoods also have the highest violent crime rates in the city and the most concentrated areas of economic and social disadvantage.

There are structural inequities, including racial inequities, at play in Chicago’s geography. The statistics show a markedly higher reduction in crime in Chicago’s central business district and in many of the more affluent neighborhoods with fewer people of color:

The area where we’ve seen the biggest drop in crime is The Loop—the central business district in downtown Chicago where the businesses, the shopping district, and the financial district are located. And nobody’s there right now—the accountants and attorneys are all working from home, and almost all of the stores are closed to shoppers.

Meanwhile in the areas with higher crime rates, homicides and shootings have been relatively unaffected by the crisis, remaining relatively steady in their week-to-week fluctuations.

The data suggest that we may have reached a statistical baseline, in terms of how much it’s possible to impact crime statistics and the jail population alone.

At this point, if we want to further reduce crime or the jail population, then it’s going to need deeper work from a public health perspective to protect the population at greatest risk for shootings and homicides. There are some more intractable issues at play that aren’t interfered with, even by a pandemic.

So far, there’s been limited replication of this kind of statistical analysis, nationally. But we encourage it because it illustrates the powerful impact of police decision making on the system.

By reducing the number of drug arrests in Chicago, for example, police have had a profound impact on the system, and on the jail. There is a systemwide interconnectedness revealed in the numbers.

The question is, once restrictions have been eased, will the Chicago justice system remember what it’s learning from all this? 

Dr. Don Stemen is an Associate Professor and Chairperson in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology and a member of the Graduate Faculty at Loyola University, Chicago.

Professor David Olson is a Professor in the Criminal Justice and Criminology Department at Loyola University Chicago, where he is also the Graduate Program Director, and is also the Co-Director (with Diane Geraghty, Loyola School of Law) of Loyola’s interdisciplinary Center for Criminal Justice Research, Policy and Practice. 


The Covid Blueprint: Crime Stats Are Not Going Up As Jail and Prison Populations Go Down

By: James Austin

COVID Crime Jail Populations May 7, 2020

Contrary to what fearmongers would have you believe, the Coronavirus has shown that crime doesn’t rise when jail and prison populations go down. This was well known even before COVID-19 caused cities to rethink their criminal justice policies.

The current COVID-19 crisis provides a real-time blueprint on how to vastly streamline our criminal justice system. Removing misdemeanor and traffic violations from the criminal code would reduce the number of arrests, jail bookings and court filings by at least 50%. Expediting the disposition of criminal charges for those jailed will reduce the jail and prison populations. And we now know that crime rates will be reduced as we shrink the $300 billion criminal justice system footprint.

The press has focused on a few isolated surges in shootings but in fact, a new study by Thomas Abt and Richard Rosenfeld shows that American homicide rates declined dramatically in April and May based on data from 64 U.S. cities: Homicide rates declined by 21.5 percent in April and 9.9 percent in May compared with the previous three-year average for those months. We’ve also seen abrupt drops in theft and burglaries since the Coronavirus took hold, and that’s against a backdrop of crime rates already dropping by over 50% since 1995.

The crime drop has also produced an arrest drop, and that’s been compounded as law enforcement has decided not to pay as much attention to misdemeanor crimes. Those arrests have dropped dramatically, producing reduced jail bookings and fewer people in jail.

As we talk about reducing the footprint and cost of police agencies (over $140 billion a year), the number one thing for us to learn is that we don’t need to physically arrest people for a misdemeanor crime. Instead, police should give them a field citation, with the exception of domestic violence and DUI charges. And police shouldn’t be doing routine traffic stops for the sole purpose of raising money for more policing. As an alternative, we should maximize use of cameras, and develop a corps of traffic officers who aren’t armed with guns but with tablets. If they catch you speeding, they take a picture of your license plate, and then send you the picture and a bill. That’s all.

The big challenge we’re now facing is people’s court appearances being delayed because the criminal courts have been shut down, or are working at a slower pace. Courts need to expedite the processing of cases for those folks who are still in jail. Defenders and prosecutors will have to change their old business practices of delaying sentencing until they get a deal they like. In particular, needless and lengthy court continuances need to be eliminated.

Courts may also need to declare a one-time amnesty for those who fail to appear over coming months on misdemeanor and traffic citations issued during the Coronavirus crisis. Otherwise, there’ll be a sizable backup of failure-to-appear warrants which will clog the courts, increase jail bookings, and do nothing to improve public safety.

—Dr. Austin has over twenty-five years of experience in correctional planning and research. He is the former director of the Institute on Crime, Justice and Corrections at George Washington University in Washington, DC. 

Mayors Are Joining Together to Get Smart on Crime

By: Ed Chung

Community Engagement Crime Featured Jurisdictions February 13, 2018

This month, mayors from 12 cities partnered with Center for American Progress to launch Mayors for Smart on Crime, a national initiative promoting fair, just and proportional, and comprehensive approaches to public safety and criminal justice that are driven by evidence and data. With support from the Safety and Justice Challenge, Mayors for Smart on Crime brings together a diverse group of leaders from cities of different sizes and regions, united by their commitment to building safer, fairer communities.

Mayors are uniquely positioned to effect positive change and give voice to the movement against outdated and ineffective “law and order” policies. Traditionally, the responsibility for enhancing public safety has been placed solely on the shoulders of police and other enforcement agencies. This led to an unnecessary growth of the number of people in our jails and prisons. Today, we understand that public safety is not limited only to the enforcement tool in the toolbox. It requires partnerships with members of the community, advocates, social service agencies, and public health entities, just to name a few. This results in both safe communities and an equitable and right-sized justice system.

Across the country, mayors are positioned to lead these multi-faceted approaches and bring comprehensive solutions to bear. In Dayton, Ohio, for example, Mayor Nan Whaley is leading the way to combat the impact of opioid addiction. Whaley was one of the first mayors in Ohio to declare a state of emergency in response to the opioid epidemic, a move that opened up additional resources to support the city’s response. “The declaration of emergency allowed us to do what we call harm reduction,” Whaley said. The city equipped all first responders with the overdose reversal drug Naloxone, and launched a needle-exchange program at three sites across the city. Through needle exchanges, individuals affected by addiction can swap used needles for clean ones, helping to curb the spread of diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.  Mayor Whaley also views the program as an opportunity to build connections with impacted communities.  “[The needle-exchange program is] an opportunity for us to open the door so we have a relationship—where if someone feels they have nowhere else to turn [then] they have this place,” she explained. “That way, when they’re ready for treatment, we can get them into treatment very quickly.”

Mayor Michael Hancock of Denver, Colorado is another vocal advocate for smart on crime approaches. His city has embodied these principles with recent sentencing reforms. Previously, all violations of city ordinances carried a maximum sentence of one year in jail, regardless of the severity of the offense. That meant petty infractions, such as public urination, were subject to the same punishment as assault, domestic violence, and other serious crimes. In May 2017, the Denver City Council unanimously approved a comprehensive overhaul of sentencing laws, which established proportional responses to city-level offenses. Under the new structure, the most serious crimes are still punishable by a maximum of 365 days in jail. But for minor violations, the maximum sentence has been reduced to 60 days. “With this ordinance, we will ensure punishment fits the severity of the offense,” Hancock said.

These reforms represent a major step towards protecting all of Denver’s residents, including immigrants, refugees, and those experiencing homelessness. Notably, federal law stipulates that ICE must be notified whenever an immigrant is convicted of a crime that carries a maximum sentence of one year or more, even if the individual receives a lesser sentence. Under the new sentencing structure, less serious offenses will no longer trigger ICE notification – and by preserving the 365-day maximum for violent crimes, the sentencing structure will continue to hold serious offenders accountable.  Mayor Hancock called the reforms a “critical step” towards keeping families intact and “ensuring low level offenses, like park curfew, are not a deportation tool.”

Mayors for Smart on Crime will give mayors the opportunity to share strategies and benefit from the collective knowledge of their peers. Reflecting on her experiences in Gary, Indiana, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson emphasized the importance of comprehensive public safety approaches. “If we continue to use law enforcement-centered solutions, we will get the same mixed results,” she explained, “and we will continue to lose valuable human potential.”

Mayor Jim Kenney of Philadelphia reinforced this principle, explaining that incarceration “doesn’t solve the problem.” Instead, Kenney takes a holistic view of crime prevention efforts, focused on addressing the root causes of criminal involvement. “When you see wasted potential and wasted talent, and you recognize that if that person had a different experience in life, and a different educational experience and a different opportunity for work experience, that they would be contributing much more than they are now,” he says. “There are no such thing as throw away people. Everyone has a chance to redeem themselves.”

Learn more about Mayors for Smart on Crime and see full list of participating mayors.

New FBI Crime Data Takes Search for Solutions to the State, Local Level

By: Michael Boggs

Community Engagement Crime Interagency Collaboration November 21, 2017

Any indication our neighborhoods may be becoming less safe will always be met with anxiety. The FBI’s annual report on crime, released in September, will fairly be met with some concern that our collective effort to keep citizens safe is going in the wrong direction.

According to the FBI, the violent crime rate in the United States remains near half-century lows, but increased nationally between 2015 and 2016, a continuation of increases seen in last year’s report. While any increase in violent crime is cause for alarm, a detailed look at the data reveals that a large percentage of the increases are concentrated in certain neighborhoods around the country, reflecting local factors. Combatting these factors will require locally tailored crime prevention strategies supported by research.

As two leaders on the front lines of our respective state and city’s criminal justice systems, we’ve pursued strategies to hold the people who committed crimes accountable and witnessed first-hand the harm that these crimes can cause communities. We also know how vital it is to look beyond the headlines and peel back the layers of data that mask what’s really happening in each state and the communities within those states in order to determine effective solutions to ensure the people in those jurisdictions remain safe.

For instance, from 2014 to 2016, Kansas saw its violent crime rate increase by 9 percent. What that number doesn’t show is that the state also saw a 7-percent decline in rape. During the same period, Georgia’s statewide violent crime rate increased 5 percent, but that hides the fact that its most populous city, Atlanta, saw its violent crime rate actually drop by 12 percent.

Other locations across the country are experiencing very different trends. In some communities, homicide is up, pushing the overall homicide rate to increase by 8.6 percent. Other crime categories have reached historic lows. National property crime rates, for example, were last this low in 1966, and national violent crime rates have been lower than the current rate only five times since 1971.

It’s important to take a comprehensive look at all crime trends, specific subsets of crime categories, historical context, and geographic characteristics of local jurisdictions, such as urban and rural. Additionally, poverty rates, illegal drug use and other societal issues should be examined to help understand larger issues leading to crime.

The complexity of local crime trends means that no one number can guide our public safety strategies. States and communities should collaborate with community members and stakeholder organizations when reviewing data and deciding on how best to allocate resources and develop public safety improvement and crime prevention strategies. The good news is that states that are targeting that type of approach are already seeing results.

According to a recent brief from The Council of State Governments Justice Center, South Carolina, Georgia, Michigan and several other states have seen recidivism rates fall significantly, meaning fewer people are leaving prison and committing new crimes.

A growing number of cities and counties are embracing targeted solutions as well. Through the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge—to which CSG Justice Center is a strategic ally—forty jurisdictions are piloting data-driven solutions to reduce the cycle of incarceration that can destabilize individuals and communities and lead to more crime.

The FBI crime report should prompt a serious dialogue among state and local leaders about the differing challenges they face in combatting the pockets of persistent violence around the country. How can communities make a positive impact on violent crime trends while maintaining the progress being made on property crime in an era of tightening budgets? How can they best address the significant impacts opioids and mental health issues are having on our criminal justice systems?

This type of deep data analysis at the local level is the only way to ensure unique challenges are met with appropriate solutions, especially when state and local trends can be at odds with one another, both state by state and community by community.

In that spirit, towns, counties, and cities must take the same initiative to closely examine indicators like arrest rates and the effectiveness of probation and parole programs to key aspects of the local system, such as addressing crime at the moment of impact all the way through someone’s eventual release from prison or jail, determining whether victims are receiving restitution, and understanding how courts are using detailed assessments to make appropriate decisions for each individual.

The new FBI crime numbers should represent the beginning of a locally driven conversation about data-driven solutions, not the end. Federal policymakers should stand with states and localities as they dig into their crime data to make sure that funding, programs and policies are focused on the public safety issues most relevant to their unique communities.

Michael Boggs is a Georgia Supreme Court Justice and Co-Chair of the Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Council. Gordon Ramsay is the Chief of the Wichita Police Department. They both serve on The Council of State Governments Justice Center Board of Directors. This post originally appeared on the CSG Justice Center website

Coalition: HUD’s Plans Will Limit Access to Fair Housing & Second Chances for People with Criminal Records


Crime Housing Presumption of Innocence May 4, 2017

A coalition of criminal justice groups issued a statement today voicing opposition to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) recent proposal to amend its so-called “disparate impact” rule under the Fair Housing Act. The disparate impact rule permitted people to bring legal claims against housing policies and practices that, while not motivated by discriminatory intent, predictably harmed protected groups, including people of color.

“We join together as diverse voices from the criminal justice field to strongly oppose HUD’s proposed rule regarding the disparate impact standard, a key tool used to enforce fair housing policies and practices across the country. If enacted, the rule change would limit access to fair housing for people with a criminal record and create yet another barrier for people who have paid their debts and are working hard to start a new life.

HUD’s current guidance recognizes that housing policies and practices that unduly burden people on the basis of their criminal records may be a violation of the Fair Housing Act because they disproportionately impact people of color. This may include creating a blanket ban or other exclusionary practices—including through housing applications or evictions— based on past arrest, including an arrest that doesn’t lead to a conviction or is expunged.

If enacted, the proposed change will make it harder for a person with a criminal history to take legal action and protect themselves if they were evicted or denied access to housing solely on the basis of their record. 

The vast majority of people currently incarcerated will eventually return home to their communities, and there are millions of people living in our neighborhoods now who are struggling to overcome the ongoing consequences of their conviction. We should be helping people along pathways to success, not creating new barriers in their way. A safe home is a key component of a meaningful second chance. 

The proposed rule is in direct conflict with the goals of the First Step Act, which was passed in December, as well as the widely accepted principle that we need to create more second chances for people with criminal records. 

We urge HUD to withdraw the proposed rule, and instead, continue to build on our collective progress towards creating a justice system that elevates our communities and makes them safer.”

Endorsing Organizations:

  • Association of Prosecuting Attorneys
  • Association of State Correctional Administrators
  • Center for American Progress
  • The Council of State Governments Justice Center
  • JustLeadershipUSA
  • National League of Cities
  • National Legal Aid & Defender Association