* John Conroy of the Better Government Association and Rob Warden of the Center for Wrongful Convictions just completed an extraordinary investigation into the financial costs of wrongful convictions and incarceration. What surprised me was the ratio of legal costs to incarceration costs. Conroy and Warden found that wrongful convictions resulted in 926 years of incarceration between 1989 and 2010, which is stunning in and of itself. Incarcerating people isn’t cheap, so it cost an estimated $18.5 million to do so. But the legal costs—between settlements, court of claims costs, and lawyers’ fees—were about ten times that. Kari Lydersen has more for the CNC.
* Conroy and Warden found that the bulk of the cost for wrongful conviction comes from lawsuits. The first thing I thought of was a 2008 investigation by the Reader’s Mick Dumke, who found that Chicago pays much more in legal costs than any major city:
Chicago pays out more than almost every other large city in the country. From January 2005 through June 2008, we paid about $230 million in settlements and judgments; Los Angeles, which has a larger population, paid about $77 million. Houston, with about 77 percent of our population, paid about 6 percent of what we did, about $14 million. Only New York, with about three times as many residents as Chicago, paid more, but its city government has a wider scope—it oversees jail and hospital systems, for instance. In Chicago those are the county’s responsibility.
That’s three times what Los Angeles paid. What’s the bulk of that?
Lawsuits involving the police account for about 44 percent of Chicago’s settlements and judgments. In New York and LA they account for only about a quarter. And the amount Chicago is spending to close police-related lawsuits is increasing—from about $23 million for all of 2005 to more than $62 million for the first half of 2008.
Dumke followed up a year later and found that the picture hadn’t changed much.
* Speaking of Rob Warden and wrongful convictions, Warden and David Protess wrote one of my favorite underrated Chicago nonfiction books: one of his four books on the subject is Gone in the Night, about the Dowaliby case.
* Speaking of Mick Dumke, he just completed an investigation into the city’s approximately year-old gun law, instituted after the Supreme Court struck down the city’s handgun ban. It’s a tough law… and not that many people have taken the opportunity to register their guns. Then again, Dumke found last year that the ban itself resulted in precious few prosecutions.
* Last week the Sun-Times’s Kim Janssen broke the fourth wall in his story about a shooting at a Humboldt Park memorial service, as he found himself in the line of fire. Today, Janssen, Mark Konkol, and Art Golab return to the corner to explain what happened.
* The Sun-Times also published an attention-grabbing piece last week: “Study: 83 percent of Chicago arrestees test positive for drugs.” Which sounds bad, and it is, but Steve Bogira notes some relatively good news: positives for heroin and cocaine sharply declined over the last decade.
Photograph: blipsman (CC by 2.0)