get you some data
March 20, 2019 5:42 AM   Subscribe

Mass Incarceration: the Whole Pie 2019. The United States incarcerates 2.3 million people, more than any other country. Where and how does mass incarceration actually happen?
posted by likeatoaster (22 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, these visualizations are atrocious (pie charts are sin) but this is very important. Thank you for posting.
posted by Young Kullervo at 5:48 AM on March 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

Too many of the "myths" are "this is what is going on but also THIS is true about this myth" which leads me to believe that if we solved all the problems of the myths supposedly being exploded by this article, a lot of mass incarceration would be solved.

interesting article, but it seems blind to its own cognitive dissonance.
posted by hippybear at 5:53 AM on March 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

Which myth do you have a problem with? Because in my experience working in a state criminal justice system, they all seem like interesting and valid points.

If it's that you think we should reduce the war on drugs and get rid of private prisons, yes (most of us) agree. The point was that this would not end mass incarceration, though, which is accurate and usually overlooked when this topic is discussed.
posted by likeatoaster at 5:56 AM on March 20, 2019 [6 favorites]

My point is, address the points of these myths and something like half of everyone incarcerated gets released and the others aren't subjected to forced labor and shitty food anymore.
posted by hippybear at 6:00 AM on March 20, 2019

If you look at the actual data, approximately 300,000 of 2 million people incarcerated in state systems are in for drug offenses. Drugs are a bigger proportion of the federal system for sure, but people incarcerated federally are in the substantial minority. Plus, whether all drug offenses count as non-violent is probably up for interpretation.

It's so fortunate we actually have this data in the linked article so we don't have to resort to sloppy mischaracterizations like "something like half."
posted by likeatoaster at 6:03 AM on March 20, 2019 [14 favorites]

That would be a great start, it wouldn't solve the larger question of whether incarceration is ever a good solution, but in lieu of that conversation I'd take those reforms.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 6:03 AM on March 20, 2019

It's so fortunate we actually have this data in the linked article so we don't have to resort to sloppy mischaracterizations like "something like half."

If the article says that violent and sexual offenders are the least likely to reoffend and the article also has HUGE slices of the pie which are about those offenders, and then you add in non-violent drug offenses as being not worthy of incarceration, and you just do a basic eyeball of the slices of the pie...

Like, I'm not going to sit here and do the math, but "something like half" seems to be what the article and the data the article presents is suggesting.
posted by hippybear at 6:15 AM on March 20, 2019

Plus I find it interesting that you immediately thought I was only talking about drug offenses. The article is pretty broad in its scope, and it has a lot to say about a lot of things. I did actually read it.
posted by hippybear at 6:25 AM on March 20, 2019

Hippybear, it doesn't help when your first comment, 10 minutes after the post, reads like the hottest of takes. Even if drug and sex offenses did not lead to incarceration, and your eyeball read of "half" was accurate, and we didn't consider the narrative points made further down the article, we'd still be incarcerating at the 2nd highest level per capita behind Russia. We'd still have a huge problem. But, per the reading:

First, when a person is in prison for multiple offenses, only the most serious offense is reported. So, for example, there are people in prison for violent offenses who were also convicted of drug offenses, but they are included only in the “violent” category in the data. This makes it hard to grasp the complexity of criminal events, such as the role drugs may have played in violent or property offenses. We must also consider that almost all convictions are the result of plea bargains, where defendants plead guilty to a lesser offense, possibly in a different category, or one that they did not actually commit.

Which is where the begin to expound on the limitations of the broad strokes such as the one you prescribe (e.g. even if we didn't incarcerate violent and drug offenders, we'd still very likely find DAs pushing plea bargains for the crimes they can force time on).

The Prison Policy Initiative has a pretty good reputation from what I know, so quickly questioning their cognitive bias, while you have it all figured out, seems like a poor first toss and a poor way to start the conversation.

I'm going to continue digesting the article and come back with some more reflections later.
posted by avalonian at 6:51 AM on March 20, 2019 [9 favorites]

Mod note: A few comments deleted. Folks it isn't great to come in here with an attitude of "gotcha, I dismiss your report based on a framing issue". Gonna ask that people leave the framing objections as duly noted, and focus on the more interesting substance in the report.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:19 AM on March 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

Not to be dismissive of the whole report, per mod guidance, but is "Indian Country" offensive or not?
posted by Dr. Twist at 8:45 AM on March 20, 2019

"Not to be dismissive of the whole report, per mod guidance, but is "Indian Country" offensive or not?"

That''s the language the US Government uses (for example). So while it may be offensive, it's probably useful to use the same verbiage the government is using (to track back the statistics to their source, etc).
posted by el io at 9:21 AM on March 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

For what it's worth, "Indian Country Today" is the name of a major weekly newspaper written by and for Native people.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 9:22 AM on March 20, 2019 [7 favorites]

I honestly didn't know. thanks
posted by Dr. Twist at 9:59 AM on March 20, 2019

Honestly the myths section made me wonder if the report was written by cops, too. I think the goal is to make a broader case that mass incarceration is problematic beyond what you already suspect, but I don't think it succeeds.
posted by dame at 11:09 AM on March 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think the point is supposed to be that there isn't one magic bullet solution, but their phrasing seems to minimize the amount of change small reforms will have (even as they say that those reforms will be helpful). Especially when they don't take into account the effect that being incarcerated - must less a felony charge - has on economic status. There's one line about how poverty is often the outcome of incarceration as well as a cause, but doesn't seem to then make the connection as to how poverty from incarceration can cause the experience to be cyclical.
posted by dinty_moore at 1:06 PM on March 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

the response on here to this data is really disheartening!

the report is absolutely right: the focus in the media on hot button issues like drug offenses and private prisons is a distraction. criminal justice reformers absolutely must come to terms (and many have) with the notion that individuals who committed serious property crimes and even violent crimes will have to have their sentences reduced in order to greatly reduce the state prison population, which is where most people in the US are incarcerated.

if that makes people uncomfortable, it should! it may still be worth doing, both for fairness (given the socioeconomic conditions that cause crime) and economic reasons (the cost of incarceration to communities and taxpayers). or it may not. we should have that debate; the answer will probably be "it depends." depends on the specific crime, the victim, the degree of rehabilitation, the circumstances as a whole.

but the correct response is not to accuse cops of writing the report because it bursts your bubble that this problem can be solved painlessly, or to say we should just ignore the serious criminals because it's too hard so let's focus instead on the minority who are in for drugs.

sadly, this thread is a microcosm of why true criminal justice reform is going to be so hard.
posted by wibari at 5:35 PM on March 20, 2019 [5 favorites]

I think it’s less the “bad people will serve less time — does that freak you out?!” thing and more “why do you seem to be arguing against releasing nonviolent offenders and stopping functional slavery” thing. We don’t disagree, but the way it’s written seems to work against the cause and I don’t see why they did that.
posted by dame at 6:48 PM on March 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

What's really frustrating about it is that the people I know who are working on bail fundraising or bail reform, or for more compassionate drug laws, or better legal representation, or police reform, or to get racist judges voted out (hell, they didn't even mention prostitution and loitering laws as their own thing, lumping them in with sexual assault) - none of those people think their cause is the One Solution that will solve our incarceration problem in America. It's just that you can only tackle so much at a time as one person, so you've got to pick your cause and trust that other people will also do their parts.

I don't think that the writers of the report thought that drug offences and private prison reform are a distraction - just that they aren't the whole picture. But we all know that. Just doing one thing (even reducing the sentences of every violent boogeyman offender) isn't going to solve the giant prison industrial complex problem we have in this country, but that doesn't mean we don't work for any of it.

(Though hey, if you are looking for an easy way to help out - donate to your local bail fund! You know that giant churn they were talking about? The bail fund alone is not going to stop it, but it might just stop someone from losing custody of their kids, or losing their job, or being behind on rent because time and money spent in the system)
posted by dinty_moore at 7:16 PM on March 20, 2019 [4 favorites]

Wow, these visualizations are atrocious (pie charts are sin)

Pie charts are problematic because people are terrible at judging the relative volume of the pie slices. That problem goes away when numbers are included in the chart which they are in these. They're fine.
posted by srboisvert at 7:42 PM on March 20, 2019 [2 favorites]

Pie charts are problematic because people are terrible at judging the relative volume of the pie slices. That problem goes away when numbers are included in the chart which they are in these. They're fine.

Pie charts are notoriously bad in displaying data binned within several categories and the general rule of thumb is that they be limited to less than five categories if they're going to be used at all. There's too much information on in these charts and I wager most viewers will not want to bother having to wade through all those numbers to understand what the message is. Might as well throw them a data table.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:49 AM on March 21, 2019

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