Friday, June 29, 2018

Unequal Under the Law


Your chances of going to prison after committing a crime vary wildly depending on which state of America you are tried in. In Maine the number of people imprisoned per 100,000 residents is 153. In Louisiana it is 816. If you are white and live in Louisiana you don't have to worry about being sent to prison for a crime as much as you would as black residents of the state. The white imprisonment rate is only 438. If you are black the imprisonment rate is 1,740.

The Sentencing Project has created an interactive map which allows you to compare how different states interpret and apply criminal justice. The map allows you to make direct comparisons of each state's imprisonment rate, juvenile custody rate and the racial disparity in incarceration rates.

The Sentencing Project's State by State Data has three different visualization tools of imprisonment data in the United States. The interactive map provides choropleth views of the different imprisonment rate data providing a direct state by state comparison for the selected data-set. The 'Detailed State Data' option allows you to select a state to view a breakdown of all the imprisonment rate data for that state. The 'State Rankings' view provides an ordered view of all states for each data-set, listing the states from highest to lowest.


One thing that the Sentencing Project's data definitely reveals is that the United States likes locking people up. According to the Prison Policy Initiative's report States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2016 "every state (in the USA) is more likely to incarcerate its residents than almost every other nation on the planet". The NAACP reports that 25% of the entire world's prison population is living in American jails. This propensity to lock up its citizens affects African Americans more than most other Americans. The NAACP says that "African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites" in the USA.

As we have already seen there is also a geographical factor at play in the incarceration rates of the different states in the USA. The Prison Policy Initiative states that "the South has consistently had a higher rate of incarceration than the other regions of the United States". The Pudding decided to explore if there was any connection between the high rate of incarceration in Southern states and the legacy of slavery. By mapping 150 years of census and incarceration data they wanted to see if historic incarceration rates differ between the former slave states and the non-slave states of the North.

In the Shape of Slavery The Pudding examines the number of slaves in Southern states before the Civil War, the black population across the United States over time and the number of prisoners in each state over time. Using these different map views it is possible to compare the rate of incarceration between Southern and Northern states.
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