Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, April 9, 2015

Student analysis helps Illinois manage prison costs

An analysis by La Follette School students that could help the state of Illinois reduce its corrections costs is available online as a working paper.

The cost-benefit analysis examines the Illinois Department of Corrections' risk assessment system for offenders leaving prison and going on mandatory supervised release. The state uses the Service Planning Instrument and CaseWorks tool to predict and manage the risk of whether an offender is likely to commit another crime.

The scenario the authors modeled indicates that the implementation of tools at the time of release would produce $95.4 million to $235.3 million in net benefits over five years. The authors find a reduction in the rate of recidivism and monetized the decline, which accounts for net benefits over the years.

The students prepared the study as part of Professor David Weimer's fall 2014 cost-benefit analysis course at the request of 2012 alum Nate Inglis Steinfeld, research director for the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council. "We greatly appreciate the work the students put in, especially going above and beyond the classwork to prepare the paper this spring," Inglis Steinfeld says. "Their work fills a void in our cost-benefit work in Illinois. We have presented their findings to policymakers, including legislators and the governor's budget staff, all of whom have been eager to compare the costs of risk assessment against the realistic expected benefits."

"We considered several categories of monetized and non-monetized costs and benefits," says one of the co-authors, Virginia Andersen. "The monetized costs included hiring new staff, training new staff, and the acquisition of the Service Planning Instrument and CaseWorks tool. Overall, we find that using the risk assessment tools when an offender is going on mandatory supervised release reduces recidivism enough to outweigh the cost of implementation for the entire prison population."

The other authors are Chris Babal, Sierra Fischer, Brianne Monahan, John Staskunas and Hannah Vogel. Their report is available as La Follette School Working Paper No. 2015-003.