Mapping America’s Enormous Prison Population

The 2.2 million people who fill America’s prisons exceed the entire population of Qatar. Yet, somehow, the fact of our mass incarceration rate tends to fade into the fabric of the everyday. Not so with a new tool from software engineer Stuart Sandine, who used data from the International Centre for Prison Studies to build a map of the world’s imprisoned population.

With Sandine’s Prison Data, it’s easy to toggle among imprisonment stats in different countries. America’s prison population exceeds that of China, Russia, Brazil, India, and Thailand, according to this data, and so does the land of the free’s incarceration rate.

“I’ve long been disturbed by our country’s prison-industrial complex, particularly the abhorrent number of incarcerated non-violent offenders and race inequality in incarceration,” Sandine, now at New York City’s Hacker School, says. “One day I was exploring, which is a great data source, and became frustrated with my inability to visualize the data in a more meaningful way. So I built a tool that scrapes that data and presents it more usefully, allowing country comparisons, maps, and quick fact lookups.”

The costs of mass incarceration have quadrupled in the last 40 years, according to a new report from the National Research Council this week. That same study concluded that U.S. prison practices disproportionately punish African Americans over whites, and the United States has no choice but to reduce its incarceration rate. “We are concerned that the United States is past the point where the number of people in prison can be justified by social benefits,” NRC committee chair and John Jay College of Criminal Justice president told reporters.SB