Which Illinois county is most likely to lock you up?
Research shows Hardin, Macon and Marion Counties lead the state in prison admissions per 10,000 residents.
News stories have been focusing on increasing crime rates in Chicago. But prison admission rates in recent years have been the highest in other, often more rural regions in Illinois, according to analysis of data from the National Corrections Reporting Program by the New York Times and Fordham Law Professor John Pfaff.
The five counties with the highest prison admission rates in Illinois in 2013 were all in Central and Southern Illinois:
- Hardin County: 52.9 persons admitted to prison per 10,000 residents
- Macon County: 51.9 persons admitted to prison per 10,000 residents
- Marion County: 48.6 persons admitted to prison per 10,000 residents
- Union County: 46.1 persons admitted to prison per 10,000 residents
- Montgomery County: 40.4 persons admitted to prison per 10,000 residents
Total prison admissions in these counties are much smaller than in other parts of the state. For example the smallest of these five counties, Hardin, also the smallest county by population in Illinois, sent 20 people to Illinois prisons in 2013. Macon County (which includes Decatur, Ill.) is the 19th largest country by population and sent 455.
By comparison, Cook County, on the other hand, sent 12,351 people to Illinois prisons in 2013, but its prison admission rate was much lower than the top five counties’, at 27.4 per 10,000 residents, according to the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority’s felony sentencing data set.
Prison admission rates generally give a better picture than raw admissions figures of which communities may be struggling the most with crime and the social and fiscal costs of incarceration. According to the New York Times article:
A bipartisan campaign to reduce mass incarceration has led to enormous declines in new inmates from big cities, cutting America’s prison population for the first time since the 1970s. From 2006 to 2014, annual prison admissions dropped 36 percent in Indianapolis; 37 percent in Brooklyn; 69 percent in Los Angeles County; and 93 percent in San Francisco.
But large parts of rural and suburban America — overwhelmed by the heroin epidemic and concerned about the safety of diverting people from prison — have gone the opposite direction. Prison admissions in counties with fewer than 100,000 people have risen even as crime has fallen, according to a New York Times analysis, which offers a newly detailed look at the geography of American incarceration.
Just a decade ago, people in rural, suburban and urban areas were all about equally likely to go to prison. But now people in small counties are about 50 percent more likely to go to prison than people in populous counties.
Some large cities, most notably Chicago, are struggling with crime increases that defy simple solutions. But it’s also important to be aware of what’s happening in smaller urban and rural communities outside of major cities to understand important criminal justice trends.