Data Visualization: American Jails

  • Institutional Discrimination: American Jails by State and Race

    This poster depicts the heinous issue of institutional discrimination based on race and ethnicity in America's jailing system. I used various data sets from the US Census Bureau to calculate the disproportionate number of people of color, namely Black or African American people, in jail in every US state. The results were staggering.
  • The primary source of data for this poster was this data table from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Annual Summary (2013). It gives estimates of the number of inmates in custody by race or Hispanic origin in each US state.
  • Soon after finding and interpreting this data, I realized that these numbers mean little without comparison to the state population numbers by race or Hispanic origin. In other words, I wasn't interested in the number of people of a certain race in jail, but rather the ratio of that percentage to the percentage the race makes up in the state's population. For example, if white people make up 60% of a state's population, they should also make up 60% of the state's jail population; this ideal ratio would be 1-1.

    So I set out to find a secondary set of data that would put the jail information into perspective. The American FactFinder "Guided Search" section (below) on the United States Census Bureau website turned out to be a great resource – it allowed me to search by Topics, Geographies, and Race/Ethnic Groups, and then download the data as an excel spreadsheet.
  • Next came the hard part: crunching numbers. I created a Master Excel Sheet (below) where I compared and integrated the two different sets of data. I did calculations to determine the ratio of the percentage of a state jail a certain race makes up to the percentage that same race makes up in the state's population, and then highlighted the outstanding numbers.
  • I started by stacking the graphs to save space, but that ultimately led to confusion about the value of the bars because they were overlapping and hiding what was beneath them. My solution to this was to place the bars side by side instead.
  • An early version of the poster.