More Prisons Than Universities: Interactive Map Breaks Down Nation’s Incarceration By County

There’s a reason people call the United States the “land of the free” with a sarcastic bent to it these days.

Here’s why:

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As of the 2010 Census, 2.3 million people were incarcerated. That’s roughly 707 people out of every 100,000 – a ratio far exceeding the rest of the world – and the numbers are rising all the time. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, the “prison industrial complex”? That’s what we’re talking about here, and the interactive map below will help you visualize what is truly becoming an epidemic in this country.


By illustrating exactly where the least to greatest number of inmates currently live in their quaint cinder block home-sweet-homes, including juvenile offenders.

And this map doesn’t just cover prisons, but local and county jails as well. The lighter the shade, the fewer inmates incarcerated. The darker the hue for each county, state by state, the greater number of inmates are housed in that region.

Take a look:

More often than not, discussions around inmate population only include numbers pertaining to the nation’s 1,800 state and federal pens, but the map above also shines a spotlight on the 3,200 smaller local and county jails sprinkled around the country.

What’s most disturbing about this map and these numbers, however, is the context they can be placed in.

Looking over the data, it becomes emphatically clear that the “land of the free” actually has far more prisons and jails in it than colleges and universities – approximately 5,000 more. Additionally, some areas of the country in the South actually house more citizens in prison than they do on college campuses.

To get an idea of the degree to which this is true, consider Cumberland County, Pa., where one can find 41 correctional facilities, yet only seven higher learning institutions serving a population of roughly 235,000 people. In Lexington County, S.C., there is only one college for every 15 detention centers.

Because different areas of the country choose to disperse their jails and prisons in different manners from region to region, some sections are largely free from incarcerated populations, whereas as others are marred with clusters of them.

Take a look at the nice prison belt going clear across the middle of Michigan’s mitten, for example. Artist Josh Begley shares some nice handy work to show the visual impact prisons and jails have in numerous communities around the country – likely soon to be coming to a neighborhood near YOU, at our current rate of incarceration. Wouldn’t you just love one of Begley’s little beauties a mile away from your home?

Due to the differing preferences in how and where inmates are housed, some regions of the country actually boast zero inmates whatsoever; whereas in other areas, inmates can sometimes make up a hearty section of the local population, even going up so high as 30 percent in some places.

With a growing awareness of America’s incarceration habit growing ever-larger and ever more menacing and absurd, many citizens, organizations and politicians have begun looking at ways to reduce incarceration levels, though for a variety of different reasons. The largest reason all three typically agree on, however, is the enormous cost burdening the U.S. infrastructure to house so many inmates. The frustration and poor logic of the practice only amplifies when one considers the numerous trivial reasons one can end up in jail or prison.

One means for reducing the population of incarcerated citizens is to finally give up the ghost on the War on Drugs, of course. Alternative sentences for nonviolent crimes is another solution that can likely help, in addition to finding a means for dealing with the heavy incarcerated population of the mentally ill. Put the drug addicts in rehab, give the mentally ill appropriate mental health services, and have what’s becoming modern debtor’s prison inmates complete community service. That should kick things off in a new direction nicely.

But to underline the point, how will we ever figure out better solutions for the future if we’re locking up far more people than we are educating on a higher level, and building far more prisons than universities?

H/T: washingtonpost.com | Featured image: pixabay.com

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