The title of this post is the title of this new report from the Prison Policy Initiative authored by Emily Widra. Here is how the data-heavy report gets started:
One of the most important criminal legal system disparities in the United States has long been difficult to decipher: Which communities and neighborhoods throughout the state do incarcerated people come from? Anyone who lives in or works within heavily policed and incarcerated communities intuitively knows that certain neighborhoods disproportionately experience incarceration. But data have rarely been available to quantify how many people from each community are imprisoned with any real precision.
But now, thanks to redistricting reforms that ensure incarcerated people are counted correctly in the legislative districts they come from, we can understand the geography of incarceration in twelve states with up-to-date data. These twelve states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington — are among the states that have ended prison gerrymandering, and now count incarcerated people where they legally reside — at their home address — rather than in remote prison cells. This type of reform, as we often discuss, is crucial for ending the siphoning of political power from disproportionately Black and Latino communities to pad out the mostly rural, predominantly white regions where prisons are located. And when reforms like these are implemented, they bring along a convenient side effect: In order to correctly represent each community’s population counts, states must collect detailed state-wide data on where imprisoned people call home, which is otherwise impossible to access.
These data also allow us to better understand how incarceration rates correlate with other community problems related to poverty, employment, education, and health. While the data is not comparable between states, it does show us meaningful patterns in incarceration and researchers, scholars, advocates, and politicians can use the data in this report to advocate for programs and services housed outside the criminal legal system in the communities that need them most.