Eric Cadora and the Justice Mapping Center wrangles statistics from various public resources to provide an insight into how incarceration impacts states, cities, and even specific street blocks.
After decades of rising prison populations in New York state, it’s finally leveling off, and around the country, prison population reduction programs are the talk of the legislatures. However, recent scholarship (particularly that of Todd Clear, Michelle Alexander, and Loic Wacquant) paints an absolutely different picture. In New York state in particular, the effects of mass incarceration on our most vulnerable communities have not diminished. (In a study called “Importing Constituents,” Peter Wagner found that in the 1980s New York incarcerated 123 of every 100,000 citizens; at the turn of the millennium, that rate had tripled and 66% of all state-wide inmates hailed from New York City.) In recent years, the leveling off of prison populations has seemingly had little effect on how much money taxpayers shell out every year to remove people from their homes and communities to ship them upstate. The initiatives that we all thought were saving us money and keeping communities together (those alternative-to-incarceration programs, for one) have been stymied by inflexible laws, lack of resources, and political cowardice.
At the frontline of this debate over the past decade sits Eric Cadora and the project he runs with Charles Swartz, the Justice Mapping Center. Their unique ability to wrangle statistics—from various public resources such as the NYC Department of Corrections, NYC Department of City Planning, NYC Department of Information Technology and Training, US Census, and NYC Human Resources Administration, among others—has provided an insight into how incarceration impacts states, cities, and even specific street blocks. (Note: Cadora and his team analyze data from a number of states and municipalities, and the focus on New York here does not reflect his focus.) The Justice Mapping Center sets all this data on a collision course, allowing maps to emerge as if by nuclear fusion that instantly make the situation known.
VIDEO>> The Justice Mapping Center:Even though we continue to see the justice system as a case-by-case arbiter, the reality is that criminal justice becomes highly concentrated in particularly disadvantaged neighborhoods. Helping to reframe the discussion, the Center produces maps that allow us to are see incarceration as a large-scale human displacement program.
We spoke with Cadora and he led us through one of his major projects, the Justice Atlas, an interactive mapping device that allows users to explore the intersections of various data sets within their own communities. A few years back, Cadora made headlines in the Village Voice and elsewhere with his “million dollar blocks” (35 city blocks in Brooklyn that provide enough inmates for us to spend over $1 million per year housing them in prisons), but the Atlas goes a step further. It allows users to see how certain communities are impacted more severely than others by a host of side effects of incarceration, but it also begs the user to form their own in-depth narrative of the data. Building on the work that he has done with Todd Clear and others, Cadora hopes that these interactive elements will help individuals to realize how the impact of incarceration in high-crime neighborhoods needs to be addressed by community justice. That means shifting priorities from budget lines for building and maintaining upstate prisons to re-building and maintaining schools and jobs in those neighborhoods from which inmates come.
VIDEO>> Million Dollar Blocks:By bringing together data sets from the Census and various state/city agencies, Eric Cadora and his team has revealed how much money was being spent, per year, to incarcerate people from each block in Brooklyn. When compared with maps that breakdown the population according to race, income, and so on, we can then start to see patterns that allow us to focus the discussion on how to invest in projects and institutions outside of law enforcement.
In 2004, Eric Cadora created maps that shows the “million-dollar blocks”—using a baseline of $30,000 per inmate, he calculated which blocks in Brooklyn that sent enough inmates upstate to account for over $1 million in expenditures.
VIDEO>> Justice Reinvestment Initiative:Using the maps and our understanding of population displacement due to mass incarceration, we can start to imagine a system of economic incentives to invest in community-development initiatives. It becomes possible to conceive of how to reinvest the dollars spent on incarceration into local initiatives to reduce incarcerated populations.
VIDEO>> The Money Factor: In a time of vast fiscal uncertainty, some states are adopting the Justice Reinvestment Initiative to repurpose their existing correctional spending and reorient their budgets towards community-development programs without increasing their overall budget. The issue for activists, however, is to make sure that the money going into neighborhood programs goes beyond “local” correctional approaches and into education, health, and community-strengthening initiatives.