A Tale of Three States, Part One

In this post from a few months ago, I offered a preliminary assessment of the wide disparity in incarceration rates between Wisconsin and Minnesota.  I had just enough data then to raise some interesting questions.  Now, with the capable help of a research assistant, Garrett Soberalski, I’ve assembled a much more extensive body of data, which I expect to analyze in a series of posts.  Among other things, I thought it would be helpful to add a third state to the mix, so Indiana will also be included in the comparison.  Another medium-sized midwestern state, Indiana has incarceration numbers that are even higher than Wisconsin’s.

In this initial post, though, I will focus just on the basics of the Wisconsin-Minnesota comparison.

So, here’s the essential story (as detailed in the chart that appears after the jump): Wisconsin incarcerates many more people than Minnesota, while Minnesota puts many more individuals on probation.  The two states have about equal levels of crime, and Minnesota actually has a larger percentage of its population under supervision (that is, either incarcerated or on probation or parole release).  However, because incarceration is so much more expensive than community supervision, Minnesota’s corrections budget is much smaller than Wisconsin’s (about $99 per resident, versus Wisconsin’s $234 per resident).  Given the similarity of the two states’ crime rates, it appears that Minnesota’s probation-based strategy is delivering more bang for the buck than Wisconsin’s.

Wisconsin’s prison population (and imprisonment rate) is more than twice Minnesota’s.  The jail population of the two states reflects a similar disparity, as does the parole/extended supervision population.  The probation population, though, is almost exactly the reverse, with Minnesota having more than twice as many defendants on probation.  In fact, Minnesota’s probation numbers are so high that the state’s total supervised population actually exceeds Wisconsin’s.  (I’m using 2005 data for much of this because that is most recent year for which we were able to find jail statistics.)

Here’s the key number: 30 percent of Wisconsin’s supervised population is incarcerated, as compared to only 11 percent of Minnesota’s.  On their face, anyway, these numbers seem to indicate a fundamentally different approach to sentencing in the two states.

To be sure, the difference might be illusory if the states actually had important differences in the severity of the crimes they sentenced.  Although the overall crime rates might be about the same, perhaps Wisconsin’s offenders commit more serious offenses, which could certainly justify a heavier reliance on incarceration.

Wisconsin does indeed have a higher rate of violent crime, but the difference is small — nowhere near the wide disparity in incarceration rates.  The homicide rate is more markedly different than the overall violent crime rate, but again the disparity falls well short of the incarceration disparity.

I’m not quite sure what to make of the final two rows in the chart below.  The first indicates that Minnesota actually incarcerates more people in juvenile detention facilities than Wisconsin.  Does that mean that Minnesota’s juvenile system is harsher than Wisconsin’s?  That Wisconsin is more prone to prosecute juveniles as adults?  That juvenile crime rates are higher in Minnesota?

The second number is much more striking: there are many more admissions to drug and alcohol treatment facilities in Minnesota than Wisconsin.  It’s not clear what relationship, if any, these numbers have to incarceration rates.  It may be, though, that the high treatment rate in Minnesota is a partial cause and/or an effect of the high probation rate, given the linkages between probation and treatment.

The next post in this series will consider racial disparities in Wisconsin and Minnesota.



Population (2010)



Prison Population (2010)



Imprisonment Rate (2010, per 100,000)



Jail Population (2005)



Incarcerated Population (2005)



Total Incarceration Rate (2005, per 100,000)



Probation Population (2009)



Parole/Extended Supervision Population (2009)



Total Supervised Population (2005)



Supervision Rate (2005, per 100,000)



Incarcerated, as Percentage of Supervised Population (2005)



Corrections Budget (2009, $mm)



Per Capita Corrections (2009)



Violent Crime (2010)



Property Crime (2010)



Homicide (2010)



Juveniles in Detention (2006)



Admissions to Treatment Facilities for Drug and Alcohol Abuse (2010)



Cross posted at Life Sentences.

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