According to the Washington Post, there are neighborhoods in Chicago in which the State of Illinois has spent over a million dollars imprisoning the people living there. The term “million dollar blocks” was first used by Laura Kurgan and Eric Cadora from Columbia University. According to civic technology company DataMade, there are some 850 blocks in Chicago where more than 1 million in taxpayer money has been spent on incarcerating residents. The amount spent exceeds a million dollars for nonviolent drug crimes alone in 121 of these blocks (more from the Washington Post here).
According to Chicagosmilliondollarblocks.com, the State of Illinois faces a fiscal crisis with $8 million of debt, yet has committed $1.4 billion dollars to the Department of Corrections. Unsurprisingly, the harsh sentences and mass incarceration disproportionately affects low-income neighborhoods on the west and south sides of Chicago.
While it is true, as Chicagosmilliondollarblocks.com points out, that such measures are “ineffective and costly to all,” and there are certainly “better ways to invest in public dollars,” it is questionable whether any kind of spending with forcibly extracted tax funds is ever effective, efficient, or justified.
The government and its individual constituents are greedy, profit-seeking, self-interested human beings like everyone else. Inevitably, they will spend taxpayer money as they see fit; they will re-distribute stolen wealth first to their advantage, though they may pay lip service to the public interest. In the end, the money will be spent in a manner that benefits those who control it, as long as there is some ostensible pretense of the collective good.
While there are surely a number of projects involving far less evil on which this money could be spent by the government, ideally, the money should have stayed in peoples’ pockets to begin with, and those who earned it should free to spend their hard-earned money as they see fit. Chicago’s problem of “million dollar blocks” is just one of many examples of government’s egregious waste of money and more significantly, human life.