Using Data to Map Incarceration Costs: “Million Dollar Blocks”

In today’s climate of data driven decision making and outcome based payments, data is becoming more available to the public and is being used in a variety of ways to improve services for vulnerable populations. One example of this is being implemented by the Justice Mapping Center, an organization directed by Eric Cadora and Charles Swartz that uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to easily communicate criminal justice and other social policy information on color-coded maps. The maps generated from their work demonstrate the direct correlation between where people live and differing social and economic strata.

Specifically, when one looks at the Center’s map of prison admissions in New York City, it is clear that the zip code 10474 (Hunts Point in the Bronx) has the highest rate of incarceration in the city, at a rate of 7.51 per 1,000 residents. However, several other zip codes have significantly higher annual prison expenditures (calculated by multiplying the average, daily cost of imprisonment by the length of stay in prison for all the people included in the geographic area), including 10456 (Melrose in the Bronx) at $28.6 million, 11207 (Cypress Hills/East New York in Brooklyn) at $24.8 million, and 11212 (Brownsville in Brooklyn) at $23.8 million.

This type of data is currently available for communities within 22 states through the National Justice Atlas of Sentencing Corrections, an online interactive mapping utility that provides a neighborhood-level view of where those affected by the criminal justice system are from and where corrections spending is the highest. This initiative allows legislators and community advocates to reframe the issue of incarceration; rather than the rhetoric of “get tough on crime,” they are able to demonstrate the cost of incarceration for specific neighborhoods and target resources to the highest need communities to prevent incarceration and reduce recidivism. In addition, this data can be leveraged as part of a justice oriented federal grant application’s needs section to demonstrate need within your own community, as well as calculate the return on investment of your proposed program.

For more information: