Chicago’s Million Dollar Blocks

Million DollarChicago’s Million Dollar Blocks is an amazing website that details over a five year period how much money the State of Illinois spends on incarcerating people per block in Chicago.

In this episode we feature an interview with researcher and author Dr. Dan Cooper from the Metropolitan Planning Council, who together with his colleague Dr. Ryan Lugalia-Hollon and the technologists at Datamade, created a fascinating website that details the horrific amount of money we spend on our failing justice system.

The public is largely ignorant of the vast amounts of money spent every year on our criminal justice system. The scariest aspect of this site the hundreds of millions of dollar spent each year only account for costs associated with incarceration through the Illinois Department of Corrections. It does not account for costs related to operating any of the other levels of the justice system.

Adding in these costs would surely turn the hundreds of millions of dollars in to billions of dollars a year. Please remember just how little in return we are getting for this enormous investment each year.

Here is a quick summary of the other steps:

  • Office of Emergency Management & Communications
  • Chicago Police Department
  • Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (
  • Cook County Jail
  • Cook County Public Defender’s Office
  • Cook County Criminal Court
  • Cook County Circuit Court Clerk

There is no real reliable data that would allow us to track costs reliably across the justice system for a single case to be responded to, investigated, prosecuted, defender, possibly incarcerate pre-conviction in Cook County Jail, and then deliver to Cook County Jail upon conviction.

We do have one terrifying statistic from the Chicago Council of Lawyers. They reported that they were told by the Circuit Clerk’s Office that it costs the office $2,600 just to open a court file in every single criminal case that appears in Cook County’s criminal courts. Multiple that by the hundreds of thousands of cases that go through courts each year and you can see just including a single additional level of the justice system and the costs spiral to astronomical levels.

Author: Tracy Siska

Tracy Siska is the Founder and Executive Director of the Chicago Justice Project.

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