Report shows communities in all corners of the state are harmed by mass incarceration

August 9, 2022

Today Silver State Voices, the ACLU of Nevada, and the Prison Policy Initiative released a new report, Where people in prison come from: The geography of mass incarceration in Nevada, that provides an in-depth look at where people incarcerated in Nevada state prisons come from. The report also provides fourteen detailed data tables — including data for city council wards in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Sparks, Henderson, and Reno, as well Native lands — that serve as a foundation for advocates, organizers, policymakers, journalists, academics and others to analyze how incarceration relates to other factors of community well-being.

The data and report are made possible by the state’s landmark 2019 law that requires that people in prison be counted as residents of their hometown rather than in prison cells when state and local governments redistrict every ten years.

The report shows:

  • Mass incarceration is a problem harming all corners of the state, with 99.9% of the state’s residents living in a county that is missing a portion of its population to imprisonment. Only Esmeralda County, with a population of 729 people, did not have any residents in state prison at the time the data was collected.
  • While Clark County sends the most people to prison — 5,957 for an imprisonment rate of 263 per 100,000 residents — the smaller Nye and White Pine Counties have significantly higher imprisonment rates; both are at 365 per 100,000 residents.
  • There are dramatic differences in incarceration rates within communities, often along racial and economic lines. For example, in Las Vegas, city council wards 3 and 5 have the highest imprisonment rates in the city, (553 per 100,000 residents and 685 per 100,000 residents, respectively) and highest poverty rates.
  • Some Native communities are hit particularly hard by mass incarceration, with South Fork Reservation, Ely Reservation, Carson Colony, and Battle Mountain Reservation reporting imprisonment rates that are more than four times higher than the state average.

Data tables included in the report provide residence information for people in Nevada state prisons at the time of the 2020 Census, offering the clearest look ever at which communities are most impacted by mass incarceration. They break down the number of people locked up by county, city, town, zip code, legislative district, census tract, and other areas.

The data show the cities with the highest state prison incarceration rates are Ely (482 per 100,000 residents), Las Vegas (330 per 100,000 residents) and Reno (316 per 100,000 residents). For comparison, Lovelock has the lowest imprisonment rate at 55 residents per 100,000 residents. The state imprisonment rate is 252 residents per 100,000 residents.

Map showing most people in Nevada state prisons are from Las Vegas, Reno, and North Las Vegas.

“The nation’s 40-year failed experiment with mass incarceration harms each and every one of us. This analysis shows that while some communities are disproportionately impacted by this failed policy, nobody escapes the damage it causes,” said Emily Widra, Senior Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. “Our report is just the beginning. We’re making this data available so others can further examine how geographic incarceration trends correlate with other problems communities face.”

The report cites studies that show that incarceration rates correlate with a variety of negative outcomes, including higher rates of asthma, depression, lower standardized test scores, reduced life expectancy and more. The data included in this report gives researchers the tools they need to better understand how these correlations play out in Nevada.

“The work of our Nevadans Count coalition during the census and redistricting process was the precursor to this report,” said Emily Persaud-Zamora, Executive Director at Silver State Voices. “Our report provides a more precise picture of the nexus of systemic oppression and mass incarceration. Compounded with the other health disparities in the report, it shows our communities have never been voiceless; they have been muted. Through our rights restoration work, Silver State Voices is committed to amplifying and sustaining the message that BIPOC communities and those impacted by the criminal legal system can reclaim their political power.”

“Through the dissemination of this report, we hope to continue to bring light to the pervasiveness of inequity within the criminal legal system,” said ACLU of Nevada Policy Manager Lilith Baran. “Mass incarceration continues to undermine our democracy and the impact is far and wide.”

The report is part of a series of reports examining the geography of mass incarceration in America.

Nevada is one of more than a dozen states and 200 local governments that have addressed the practice of “prison gerrymandering,” which gives disproportional political clout to state and local districts that contain prisons at the expense of all of the other areas of the state. In total, roughly half the country now lives in a place that has taken action to address prison gerrymandering.


Report shows every community is harmed by mass incarceration

August 3, 2022

Today, More Equitable Democracy and the Prison Policy Initiative released a new report, Where people in prison come from: The geography of mass incarceration in Washington, that provides an in-depth look at where people incarcerated in Washington state prisons come from. The report also provides eleven detailed data tables — including neighborhood-specific data for Seattle, Vancouver, Tacoma and Spokane — that serve as a foundation for advocates, organizers, policymakers, data journalists, academics and others to analyze how incarceration relates to other factors of community well-being.

The data and report are made possible by the state’s landmark 2019 law that requires that people in prison be counted as residents of their hometown rather than in prison cells when state and local governments redistrict every ten years.

The report shows:

  • Every single county — and every state legislative district — is missing a portion of its population to incarceration in state prison.
  • Many of the state’s smaller and midsized counties, including Grays Harbor, Cowlitz, Lewis, Yakima, and Asotin have some of the highest incarceration rates in the state, making clear that the notion that mass incarceration is a problem just impacting large urban areas is a myth.
  • There are dramatic differences in incarceration rates within communities. For example, in Spokane, residents of the West Central neighborhood are more than forty times as likely to be imprisoned than residents of nearby Balboa-South Indian Trail.
  • Some Native communities are hit particularly hard by mass incarceration, with Skokomish, and Squaxin Island Reservations reporting imprisonment rates over 1,000 per 100,000 residents, more than five times the state average.

Data tables included in the report provide residence information for people in Washington state prisons at the time of the 2020 Census, offering the clearest look ever at which communities are most impacted by mass incarceration. They break down the number of people locked up by county, city, town, zip code, legislative district, census tract and other areas.

The data show that while King County has the most imprisoned residents (3,072), it has one of the lowest county imprisonment rates in the state, with 135 imprisoned people per 100,000 residents. On the other hand, Grays Harbor County has the highest county rate in the state, with 470 people imprisoned per 100,000 residents. For context, the statewide imprisonment rate for Washington is 197 per 100,000 residents.

Map of incarceration rates by census tract.

“The nation’s 40-year failed experiment with mass incarceration harms each and every one of us. This analysis shows that while some communities are disproportionately impacted by this failed policy, nobody escapes the damage it causes,” said Emily Widra, Senior Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. “Our report is just the beginning. We’re making this data available so others can further examine how geographic incarceration trends correlate with other problems communities face.”

The report cites studies that show that incarceration rates correlate with a variety of negative outcomes, including higher rates of asthma, depression, lower standardized test scores, reduced life expectancy and more. The data included in this report gives researchers the tools they need to better understand how these correlations play out in Washington.

“Mass incarceration harms each of us, but it doesn’t harm each of us equally. We’ve known for too long that poorer communities and communities of color are over-policed, over-incarcerated, and under-resourced,” said Colin Cole of More Equitable Democracy. “This data is a tool to help policymakers, advocates, and service providers address the damage that has been done and build stronger, healthier, and more secure communities.”

The report is part of a series of reports examining the geography of mass incarceration in America.

Washington is one of more than a dozen states and 200 local governments that have addressed the practice of “prison gerrymandering,” which gives disproportional political clout to state and local districts that contain prisons at the expense of all of the other areas of the state. In total, roughly half the country now lives in a place that has taken action to address prison gerrymandering.


Report shows every community is harmed by mass incarceration

July 14, 2022

Today the New Virginia Majority and the Prison Policy Initiative released a new report, Where people in prison come from: The geography of mass incarceration in Virginia, that provides an in-depth look at where people incarcerated in Virginia state prisons and local jails come from. The report also provides ten detailed data tables — including neighborhood-specific data for Arlington, Norfolk and Richmond — that serve as a foundation for advocates, organizers, policymakers, data journalists, academics and others to analyze how incarceration relates to other factors of community well-being.

The data and report are made possible by the state’s landmark 2020 law that requires that people in prison and jail be counted as residents of their hometown rather than in prison cells when state and local governments redistrict every ten years.

The report shows:

  • Every single county — and every state legislative district — is missing a portion of its population to incarceration.
  • Many of the state’s least populous counties, including Buchanan, Brunswick, Lee, and Dickinson, have among the highest incarceration rates.
  • There are dramatic differences in incarceration rates within communities. For example, more than half of the people in prison or jail from Richmond come from just 22 of the city’s more than 140 neighborhoods. These neighborhoods have historically been victims of dramatic “redlining”.

Data tables included in the report provide residence information for people in Virginia state prisons and jails at the time of the 2020 Census, offering the clearest look ever at which communities are most impacted by mass incarceration. They break down the number of people locked up by county, city, town, zip code, legislative district, census tract and other areas.

The data show the counties with the highest state prison and local jail incarceration rates are Buchanan (1,246 per 100,000 residents), Brunswick (1,167 per 100,000 residents), Lee (1,155 per 100,000 residents), Dickenson (1,132 per 100,000 residents), and Tazewell (1,105 per 100,000 residents); more than 1% of the residents of each of these counties is behind bars. For comparison, Arlington County has the lowest prison incarceration rate, at 70 people in state prison per 100,000 residents.

Map of incarceration in Colorado census tracts

“The nation’s 40-year failed experiment with mass incarceration harms each and every one of us. This analysis shows that while some communities are disproportionately impacted by this failed policy, nobody escapes the damage it causes,” said Emily Widra, Senior Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. “Our report is just the beginning. We’re making this data available so others can further examine how geographic incarceration trends correlate with other problems communities face.”

The report cites studies that show that incarceration rates correlate with a variety of negative outcomes, including higher rates of asthma, depression, lower standardized test scores, reduced life expectancy and more. The data included in this report gives researchers the tools they need to better understand how these correlations play out in Virginia.

“The damage caused by redlining in Richmond and throughout Virginia continues to reverberate to this very day,” said Kenneth Gilliam of the New Virginia Majority. “Considerable work remains to address the inequities that result in people of color disproportionately being locked behind bars. This report and data, though, offer a roadmap for where and how these investments should be made.”

The report is part of a series of reports examining the geography of mass incarceration in America.

Virginia is one of more than a dozen states and 200 local governments that have addressed the practice of “prison gerrymandering,” which gives disproportional political clout to state and local districts that contain prisons at the expense of all other districts. In total, roughly half the country now lives in a place that has taken action to address prison gerrymandering.


A new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics highlights just how common violent victimization is among women, LGB people, and trans people.

by Emily Widra, July 11, 2022

A new publication from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Violent Victimization by Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, 2017-2020, supports the vast evidence we already have that LGBT people — and particularly young adults, people of color, women, and bisexual people — are at heightened risk of violent victimization compared to their straight and cisgender1 counterparts.

We already know that LGBTQ+ people are overrepresented at every stage of the criminal legal system. And the line between victim and perpetrator is often blurry; many people who commit violent crimes have also been victims of violence and trauma throughout their lives. This new data reinforces that the way to break this cycle is not through punishment and incarceration, but rather support for programs that prevent violent victimization in the first place.

graph showing disproportionately high rates of violent victimization among bisexual, lesbian/gay, and transgender people

Defining violent victimization

The report is based on data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), an annual survey collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey asks respondents about experiences of violent crimes, regardless of whether these crimes were reported to law enforcement. For the purposes of this data source, violent crime includes threatened, attempted, or completed occurrences of rape or sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault.2 The NCVS collects data on people aged 12 and older, but the Violent Victimization by Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, 2017-2020 report from BJS only reports data for people aged 16 and older.

 

Violent victimization of transgender people

graph showing rate of violent victimization of trans people is 2.5 times higher than of cisgender people

We already know that transgender people face a significant amount of discrimination and violence: according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, nearly one in ten respondents were phsyically attacked because of their gender identity, and more than 54% experienced some form of intimate partner violence. This newest report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics supports what we already know about high rates of violence against trans people: the rate of violent victimization of transgender people is 2.5 times higher than the rate among cisgender people.It’s clear that trans people are disproportionately violently victimized: transgender people account for 0.11% of the population 16 and older, but are the victims of 0.27% of all violent victimizations reported from 2017 to 2020 in the NCVS.

 

Violent victimization of LGB people

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals experience violent victimization at rates far higher than their straight counterparts. Lesbian and gay people experienced 44 victimizations per 1,000 people, which was more than twice the victimization rate of straight people (19 per 1,000 people). Bisexual people experienced victimization at almost seven times the rate of straight people and almost three times the rate of lesbian and gay people.

Across all measured demographics – race, sex, and age – bisexual individuals have the highest rates of violent victimization:

  • graph showing bisexual people and bisexual women specifically experience the highest rates of violent victimization
  • graph showing that by sexual orientation, violent victimization of straight people is least likely across racial categories
  • graph showing bisexual and lesbian/gay young adults have the highest rates of violent victimization

Women of all sexual orientations experience higher rates of victimization

Women of all sexual orientations experience higher rates of violent victimization than their male counterparts. The violent victimization rate for lesbian women, for instance, is more than 1.3 times that of gay men (50 per 1,000 vs. 38 per 1,000). The victimization rate is highest among bisexual women, who are victimized at a rate 2.3 times that of bisexual men (151 per 1,000 vs. 65 per 1,000). Straight women experience violent victimization at a rate of 19.2 per 1,000, compared to 18.7 for straight men.

(Unfortunately, the data does not disaggregate trans people by gender, so it is not possible to make a similar comparison.)

 

More supports and protections are needed

This data reiterates what we already know: Society is failing to protect the safety of LGBT people, especially young adults, people of color, women, and bisexual people. Many trans people, for instance, face systemic disadvantages that work together to put them in danger, including anti-trans stigma (including hostile political policies), denial of opportunity (including exclusion from health care, social services, and education), and increased risk factors (such as engagement in survival sex work).

Survivors of violence advocate for interventions that:

  1. Expand funding for affirming services for survivors of violence – including LGBTQ people and women – with a focus on accessible medical and mental health services.
  2. Explicitly include trans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer identities in conversations about intimate partner violence and sexual assault.
  3. Expand access to affordable housing, a living wage, and non-discrimination policies that transform survivors’ access to basic needs.
  4. Encourage implementation of community-based solutions to violence designed by community-members who are most affected, such as those incorporating restorative and transformative justice practices.

Above all, survivors of violence emphasize rehabilitation over punishment, prevention over criminalization, and accountability through options beyond prisons and jails.

 
 

Footnotes

  1. The National Crime Victimization Survey defines cisgender as “an individual whose gender identity is the same as their sex assigned at birth.”  ↩

  2. The Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Crime Victimization Survey define aggravated assault as “An attack or attempted attack with a weapon, regardless of whether the victim is injured, or an attack without a weapon when serious injury results,” and simple assault as an “attack without a weapon resulting either in no injury, minor injury (e.g., bruises, black eyes, cuts, scratches, or swelling), or an undetermined injury requiring fewer than two days of hospitalization. Also includes attempted assault without a weapon.”  ↩


Report shows mass incarceration impacts communities in all corners of the state but disproportionately impacts communities of color

July 7, 2022

Today the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition and the Prison Policy Initiative released a new report, Where people in prison come from: The geography of mass incarceration in Colorado, that provides an in-depth look at where people incarcerated in Colorado state prisons come from. The report also provides eleven detailed data tables — including local data for Denver, Aurora, and El Paso County — that serve as a foundation for advocates, organizers, policymakers, data journalists, academics and others to analyze the impact of mass incarceration on various communities and provide a roadmap where greater investment in community development is needed to improve community wellbeing.

The data and report were made possible by the state’s landmark 2020 law ending prison gerrymandering. It requires state and local governments to count incarcerated people as residents of their home communities rather than their prison locations when drawing legislative districts.

The report shows:

  • Every Colorado legislative district — and nearly every county — is impacted where a portion of its population is incarcerated in state prisons, however the degree of that impact varies wildly when you drill down into the neighborhood level.
  • Two communities with large Hispanic, Latino, or Native American populations — Alamosa and Bent — have some of the highest imprisonment rates in the state.
  • There are dramatic differences in incarceration rates within communities. For example, in Denver, residents of the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood are 20 times more likely to be imprisoned than residents of nearby Washington Park West.

Data tables included in the report provide residence information for people in Colorado state prisons at the time of the 2020 Census, offering the clearest look ever at which communities are most impacted by mass incarceration. They break down the number of people in state prison up by county, city, town, zip code, legislative district, census tract and other areas.

The counties with the most people in state prison at the time of the 2020 census are Denver (2,712), El Paso (2,378), and Adams (1,599).

Meanwhile, the data show the counties with the highest state prison incarceration rates are Alamosa (577 per 100,000 residents), Pueblo (472 per 100,000 residents) and Bent (465 per 100,000 residents). For comparison, San Juan and Mineral counties have the lowest prison incarceration rates, with no residents in prison.

Map of incarceration in Colorado census tracts

“The nation’s 40-year failed experiment with mass incarceration harms each and every one of us. This analysis shows that while some communities are disproportionately impacted by this failed policy, nobody escapes the damage it causes,” said Emily Widra, Senior Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. “Our report is just the beginning. We’re making this data available so others can further examine how geographic incarceration trends correlate with other problems communities face.”

The report cites studies that show incarceration rates correlate with a variety of negative outcomes, including higher rates of asthma, depression, lower standardized test scores, reduced life expectancy and more. The data included in this report gives researchers the tools they need to better understand how these correlations play out in Colorado.

“This seminal report is both appalling and not surprising as over-policing and mass incarceration has targeted low-income communities and communities of color for generations,” said Christie Donner of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition. “We aren’t facing a crisis of crime, we are facing a crisis of neglect and lack of investment in communities of color and we hope this report will mobilize impacted residents and their elected officials to embrace community development as a public safety strategy.”

The report is part of a series of reports examining the geography of mass incarceration in America.

Colorado is one of more than a dozen states and 200 local governments that have addressed the practice of “prison gerrymandering,” which gives disproportional political clout to legislative districts in which prisons are located, at the expense of other districts. In total, roughly half the country now lives in a jurisdiction that has taken action to address prison gerrymandering.


Database contains hundreds of contract documents to help advocates identify and combat the exploitation of incarcerated people and their families.

by Mike Wessler, July 6, 2022

Today, we launched the new Correctional Contracts Library, which contains documents that show how companies profit on the backs of incarcerated people and their families. Through our twenty years of work to expose and stop the abusive practices of private companies, we’ve amassed a collection of hundreds of documents, including contracts, bids, evaluations, and more. These documents provide a paper trail showing how for-profit companies work with jails and prisons to squeeze money out of people who can least afford it. Our collection is now publicly available through this new tool.

The Library includes documents related to phone service, tablets, electronic messaging, commissary, and more. We’ve organized them so you can search for records from a specific facility or filter documents by state, vendor, service, or type. And we’ve provided some notes and remarks about the documents to help users understand what they contain and where they came from.

Using this new resource:

  • Organizers can monitor when their local jail is scheduled to renegotiate its contracts for services and pressure it to secure the best deal for people that are behind bars;
  • Journalists can assess whether prisons and jails in their area are helping companies exploit incarcerated people and their families;
  • Researchers can track how the cottage industry of companies that profit off of incarceration is developing new ways to sap profits from people in prison and jail; and
  • Policymakers can examine contract terms and identify problematic practices that need to stop.

This new tool does not have every prison or jail contract document that exists. We’re sharing our records, but we know our collection isn’t exhaustive. If you don’t see the documents you’re looking for, we’ve put together a guide to help you submit your own public records request to get them.

If you have documents that you think should be in this library, you can send them to us or, if you have a lot of files, use this form to send us a message telling us what you have.

This new database is the latest addition to our Advocacy Toolkit. Through the Toolkit, we’re giving advocates and organizations access to the data, lessons, and resources we’ve honed in our twenty years of working to end mass incarceration in America.

One of our primary goals here at the Prison Policy Initiative is to help others to make change in their communities. The Correctional Contracts Library is the latest way that we’re opening the doors on our research and advocacy to empower the movement to end mass incarceration.


On any given day in the U.S., 666,413 women are on probation or parole.

by Wanda Bertram and Wendy Sawyer, June 30, 2022

With several states preparing to criminalize abortion now that Roe v. Wade is over, and some states talking about criminalizing traveling out of state to get an abortion, it’s worth remembering that for many people on probation and parole, traveling out of state for abortion care is already next to impossible. On any given day in the U.S., 666,413 women1 are on probation (a community-based alternative to incarceration) or parole (the part of a prison sentence that someone serves in the community). In many jurisdictions — for instance, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, Idaho, Texas, and the federal system, as well as some juvenile probation systems — it’s common for people on probation and parole to face restrictions on where they can travel, whether they can move to another county or state, and with whom they can “associate” (including, potentially, people who assist in coordinating abortion access, where such help is criminalized). All of these restrictions will make it harder for people under supervision to get abortion care.

In the last few days, many news outlets have reported on how people in prison can be blocked from seeking an abortion, especially in states where abortion is already illegal. (Ironically, as we’ve discussed before, prisons deny people quality pregnancy care even as they deny abortion access.) The end of Roe v. Wade will create new barriers to abortion care for incarcerated people, since it will likely trigger the criminalization of abortion in thirteen states.

But an even greater number of people on probation and parole stand to be affected: About 231,000 women are in prison or jail on any given day, but several times as many women are on probation and parole, the result of gendered differences in offense types: women are more likely than men to be serving sentences for lower-level property and drug crimes

In the thirteen states with abortion ban “trigger laws” on the way, more than 200,000 women are under probation and parole supervision, which will make it difficult or impossible for many of them to travel out of state for an abortion, or potentially even talk to people coordinating abortion care, given the typical restrictions of probation and parole.

Number of women on probation and parole in states expected to outlaw abortion2
Probation Parole Total
Arkansas 9,835 3,742 13,577
Idaho 4,346 781 5,127
Kentucky 14,876 2,844 17,720
Louisiana 10,686 3,709 14,395
Mississippi 6,470 1,190 7,660
Missouri 12,284 2,883 15,167
North Dakota 1,558 202 1,760
Oklahoma 5,281 294 5,575
South Dakota No data 552 552
Tennessee 16,701 1,482 18,183
Texas 98,808 11,896 110,704
Utah 3,253 463 3,716
Wyoming 1,385 125 1,510
Total 185,483 30,163 215,646

Nationwide, the average probation term is just under two years — far too long for the average individual to “wait it out” until they are no longer under supervision and can seek abortion care across state lines. Meanwhile, parole sentences can be several months to years — typically, up to the remaining time on an individual’s sentence after they are released from prison. Some people are even subject to lifetime supervision, depending on the state and the underlying offense.

A number of probation and parole “conditions” curtail the freedoms of people on supervision: Even though breaking these rules would not be a “crime” in any other context, parole or probation officers are empowered to — and often do — send people back to jail or prison for these noncriminal “technical” violations. (In 2020, at least 67,894 people on probation and 45,878 people on parole went to prison or jail because of a noncriminal violation.) Conditions of supervision can be extremely burdensome, and they fall on people who are already disadvantaged, struggling with unemployment, poverty, and housing insecurity. As we explored in a previous report, conditions of supervision can force people to accept a bad deal in the job market. In the same way, travel restrictions — which are “standard” conditions in many places — will soon force many of these individuals to accept the impossibility of getting an abortion.

People on probation and parole typically have some options for interstate travel, but they have to get formal approval from their supervision officer in order to make specific trips. With the sole authority to approve or deny a trip across state lines for abortion care, a probation or parole officer might choose to prioritize their own personal beliefs about abortion over the desires of the individual under their control. They might also choose to delay the decision until it’s no longer possible — or safe — for the individual they’re supervising to terminate a pregnancy.

These restrictions on travel aren’t the only barriers that might stop someone from getting, or seeking, an abortion. People on probation and parole have low average incomes, and they’re often under-insured: Going to prison usually results in losing one’s health insurance coverage, meaning that formerly incarcerated people face an uphill battle to regain health insurance after their release. They may also struggle to get the time off work necessary to have an abortion — especially since maintaining steady employment is often itself a condition of supervision.

For people on supervision considering moving out-of-state to avoid their own state’s abortion laws, transfer is possible, but not guaranteed, and it’s often very slow: getting the new state to approve the transfer can take six weeks, and that’s in addition to however long the “sending” state takes to review the application. Even then, applicants will need to show their family and/or employment connections to the new state; even if they have the funds, they can’t just move on a whim.

As many others have already noted over the last few days, the growing criminalization of abortion won’t impact everyone equally. The abortions that these new post-Roe laws prevent will disproportionately be among people who are poor and lack access to transportation across state lines. People on probation and parole are a key segment of this demographic. Far too many individuals, having been swept into the criminal legal system by laws that criminalize poverty, will now find themselves without recourse for accessing what should be basic healthcare.

 

Footnotes

  1. Estimates based on 2020 data. The Bureau of Justice Statistics’s report Probation and Parole in the United States, 2020 mentions that there are 3,053,700 people on probation and 862,100 people on parole as of December 31, 2020, and notes that about 19% of people on probation and 10% of people on parole are women, so we estimate that there are 580,203 women on probation and 86,210 women on parole.  ↩

  2. These data are from 2016. While more recent (2020) state-level probation and parole data have been published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2016 is the most recent year for which BJS has published this data by state and sex. For those looking for more recent, detailed data about probation and parole populations in their states, this data may be available from individual state community supervision agencies.  ↩


The data can help researchers better understand the harms of mass incarceration.

by Peter Wagner and Emily Widra, June 30, 2022

Now that we’ve started publishing a series of reports about where incarcerated people call home in each of the states that have ended prison gerrymandering, that raises the common question: Can you also do this for other populations under criminal justice system control, such as people on probation or parole? This comes up in a number of contexts, but to pick one example, someone might be running a campaign to change a state law that denies people on parole the right to vote, and they might want to make the numerical impact a little more clear for specific legislators who might support or oppose the legislation.

The short answer is: Because this data is about people in prison — not people on probation or parole — it can’t precisely answer this question, but it can illuminate the patterns and scale of correctional control in an area.

A simple strategy to apply our data to other populations — and one that might be enough for your purposes or a proof of concept for more in-depth research1 later — would be to make the relatively safe assumption that parolees (for example) are spatially distributed across the state in a way that is roughly similar to the distribution of incarcerated people. (If you have reasons to believe that the distribution is different, then this of course won’t work.)

In order to estimate the number of parolees in a particular geography, all you would need to know is the state-level ratio of parolees (or another relevant population) to incarcerated people and then apply that ratio to each geography in our report. For example, in New York State there were 44,917 people2 on parole in 2020 and our report says that 39,027 people were reallocated3 to their home addresses from state prisons that year, for a ratio of 115%. You simply need to multiply the number of incarcerated people in each legislative district, neighborhood, etc. by that ratio to get a fair estimate of the number of parolees in that area. A similar approach could be used for people on probation or any other population that you have good reason to believe is distributed similarly to people in prison.

If you find this general methodology helpful, here are two other suggestions and warnings as you proceed:

  • Multiplying whole numbers of people by a percentage will almost surely result in fractional people. You’ll need to decide whether to round the numbers to keep this simpler or to keep the fraction as a way to emphasize that it’s an estimate. Both choices are fine and just depend on your intended use.
  • As your geographies get smaller, the accuracy of a state-level ratio between parolees and the incarcerated people will become less accurate. How small is too small is a value judgement you’ll need to make based on your knowledge of your state and your own goals, but if you wanted a starting point, in our series of reports we generally didn’t rely on or highlight incarceration rate data where the total number of incarcerated people in that geography was less than 10.

 

Footnotes

  1. The far more precise, although far more complicated way to answer this question would be to develop a relationship with a parole or probation agency, determine if they collect home address data, convince them to share that list of home addresses with other researchers under appropriate privacy protections, and then have the researchers map all of those addresses and then aggregate them up to the various geographies of interest to you.  ↩

  2. As of January 1, 2020. See Probation & Parole in the U.S., 2020, BJS. Appendix Table 9.  ↩

  3. This number is not, as our report methodology explains, the total population of the New York State prison system. For this conversion to work you want to compare the total parole population to the number of people reallocated.  ↩


Report shows every community is harmed by mass incarceration

June 27, 2022

Today the Prison Policy Initiative and Justice Policy Institute released a new report, Where people in prison come from: The geography of mass incarceration in Maryland, that gives an in-depth look at where people in Maryland state prisons come from. The report also provides 9 detailed data tables — including neighborhood-specific data for Baltimore City and Montgomery County — that serve as a foundation for advocates, organizers, policymakers, data journalists, academics, and others to do their own analysis of how incarceration relates to other factors of community well-being.

The report shows:

  • Every single county — and every legislative district — is missing a portion of its population to incarceration in state prison;
  • No city is harmed by mass incarceration as much as the city of Baltimore. It is home to 9% of the state’s residents, but 40% of people in its state prisons.
  • Smaller and traditionally under-resourced Eastern Shore communities are particularly hard hit by mass incarceration; and
  • The worst impacts of mass incarceration are often concentrated in specific neighborhoods that are already systematically under-resourced. For example, over a third of the people from the city of Baltimore in state prison come from just 10 of the cities 55 neighborhoods.

Data tables included in the report provide residence information for people in Maryland state prisons at the time of the 2020 Census, offering the clearest look ever at which communities are most impacted by mass incarceration. They break down the number of people locked up by county, city, town, zip code, legislative district, census tract, and other areas.

The data show the counties with the highest state prison incarceration rates are Wicomico, Dorchester, and Somerset, all with incarceration rates greater than 500 people in state prison per 100,000 residents. For comparison, Montgomery County has the lowest prison incarceration rate, at 61 people in state prison per 100,000 residents, roughly 10 times lower than the highest counties.

“The nation’s 40-year failed experiment with mass incarceration harms each and every one of us. This analysis shows that while some communities are disproportionately impacted by this failed policy, nobody escapes the damage it causes,” said Emily Widra, Senior Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. “Our report is just the beginning. We’re making this data available so others can further examine how geographic incarceration trends correlate with other problems communities face.”

A previous analysis from the Prison Policy Initiative and Justice Policy Institute showed a strong correlation between high rates of incarceration in Maryland and high unemployment rates, long commute times, low household incomes, decreased life expectancy, and other markers of low community well-being.

The data and report are made possible by the state’s landmark 2010 law that requires that people in prison be counted as residents of their hometown rather than in prison cells when state and local governments redistrict every ten years. Maryland was the first state in the nation to end the practice of “prison gerrymandering,” which gave disproportional political clout to state and local districts that contain prisons at the expense of all of the other areas of the state. Since then, more than a dozen states and 200 local governments have taken steps to end the practices. In total, roughly half the country now lives in a place that has taken action to address prison gerrymandering.


June 22, 2022

A new report from the Prison Policy Initiative offers the most recent national data on incarcerated people’s health, and shows that U.S. state prisons are continuing to ignore the plight of people in their care. The report, Chronic Punishment: The unmet health needs of people in state prisons, examines the Bureau of Justice Statistics’s Survey of Prison Inmates and breaks down the prevalence of several chronic conditions in this country’s 1,566 state prisons. The report also takes a deep dive into the medical histories of people behind bars.

Key findings in Chronic Punishment include:

  • People in state prisons suffer disproportionately from asthma, hepatitis C, HIV, and substance use disorder.
  • Significant numbers of people in state prisons also suffer from illnesses such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes, which are exacerbated behind bars.
  • Half (50%) of people in state prisons lacked health insurance upon the arrest that led to their incarceration, and those with insurance disproportionately received Medicaid, a sign that poverty, exclusion from the healthcare system, and incarceration overlap significantly in this country.
Health disparities in prison graph

Other standout findings in the report suggest that state prisons, nationally, are not treating medical problems among incarcerated people:

  • Four in 10 (43%) people in state prison report one or more diagnosed mental health conditions, and women’s rates are even higher. Yet only about one-fourth (26%) have received some sort of professional help for their mental health since entering prison.
  • 19% of people in state prisons report having gone without a single health-related visit since entering prison.
  • Existing research suggests that many people who go to prison die prematurely: Cancer is more deadly in prison than on the outside, and people recently released from prison have a higher risk of hospitalization and death from heart disease than the average person. In the first two weeks after release from prison, individuals face a risk of death that is more than 12 times higher than for non-incarcerated individuals.

The report, which includes 15 powerful data visualizations, analyzes how the typical individual in state prison lacked healthcare long before their incarceration and how prison doctors often diagnose problems that prisons lack the capacity to treat. The report takes a particularly close look at how incarcerated women fare medically, including a section about the treatment of people who are pregnant.

Chronic Punishment is the second installment in the Prison Policy Initiative’s analysis of the 2016 Survey of Prison Inmates, a national dataset released last year that offers the most thorough and recent demographic picture of people behind bars in the U.S. This report follows the Prison Policy Initiative’s recent report Beyond the Count about the adverse life experiences of people behind bars. The data cannot be disaggregated by state.

The full report is available at: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/chronicpunishment.html









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