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Where people in prison come from: The geography of mass incarceration (PPI, 2023) 

01-26-2023 08:42 AM

The Prison Policy Initiative released the final report in their series Where people in prison come from: The geography of mass incarceration. This report, which looks at the geographic trends nationally in incarceration, builds on the analysis in twelve state-specific reports released late last year. 

Through this national report, they highlight two major trends in the geographic patterns of incarceration: 

  • Mass incarceration isn't just a problem in urban areas. In fact, many rural communities have dramatically higher incarceration rates than big cities;
  • Deep disparities exist within communities, meaning the burden of mass incarceration is often disproportionately felt in a relatively small number of areas and neighborhoods that tend to be low-income, communities of color, under-resourced, and overpriced. 

Through this series of reports, PPI publicly released more than 140 data tables that provide residence information for people in state prisons (and in a few states, jails). These data offer journalists, researchers, policymakers, and advocates the clearest look to date at what communities are most impacted by mass incarceration. These tables allow users to see the number of people incarcerated from each congressional district, legislative district, city,  county, zip code, census tract, and more geographic categories. 

Their state-specific reports focused on California, ColoradoConnecticut, Delaware, MarylandMontanaNevadaNew JerseyNew YorkPennsylvaniaVirginia, and Washington. All of PPI's reports and data in this series are available at: .

These reports were made possible by reforms in these states that ended prison gerrymandering. Prison gerrymandering is a problem created by the flawed way the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people - as residents of a prison cell rather than their true homes. This practice distorts political representation by giving people who live closest to prisons more political clout at the expense of everyone else in their city, county, or state. 

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