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Combating Mass Incarceration Infographic

Filed under: All Infographics, Cultural Infographics, Political Infographics | Comments Off


This infographic starts off with a shocking fact – that the U.S. has 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the world population.  That’s sort of mind-boggling, when you stop to think about it.  We recently posted an infographic on innocent people who were imprisoned, and then released because DNA evidence proved their innocence.  How many of that 25% of the world’s prison population is potentially innocent?  What are the costs associated with keeping so many people in prison?  That question and more are addressed in this infogrpahic, described by the creator as such:

“The war on drugs has helped make the U.S. the world’s largest incarcerator, but our addiction to incarceration is unfair, costs too much and doesn’t make us safer.”  This leads one to believe that the creator of the infographic does not believe that drug offenders should be imprisoned, which is definitely debatable, as some consequence needs to occur to help keep drugs off the street.  What are the right answers?  What’s a country to do?  But I digress…

Violent or Nonviolent?

One fourth of the infographic is taken up by a picture of a prison with blue and red bars.  The blue bars indicate the nonviolent offenders, the red ones indicate the violent offenders.  Visually, this image is not very effective, and the information that half of the inhabitants of state prisons are “locked up” for nonviolent offenses is presented in such a way that the reader sees the creator’s bias – obviously the person who compiled and presented this data feels that nonviolent offenses are, by and large, nothing people should be “locked up” for.  Rather than persuading the audience, as more data might do, one is left with a feeling that all the data to come will be biased and therefore, not completely reliable.

The Cost

The next section talks about spending – that by 2007, “states spent more than $44 billion on incarceration and related expenses, a 127% jump from 1987″ and then states the spend on higher education has rose only by 21%.  These statistics are taken from a report by The PEW Charitable trusts, which is supposed to be a non-partisan, objective, and non-ideological organization, so it is safe to assume the numbers are right, however even the source information uses the term “behind bars” as a way to emphasize the severity of the situation.  This makes even the source information seem biased, and at a glance it looks like the source document talks about the cost of prisons in the United States.  While this is an important topic, one cannot help but think about all the information that is left out of the infographic.  The numbers are there, but is the reader supposed to be shocked and dismayed by the number of people in prison and the cost to keep them there in that they want less incarceration?  If so, what solutions does this infographic offer in regards to reducing crime and what does it do to offer an alternate solution to incarceration?

Some Statistics

A ball and chain graphic shows the data that while the United States saw a 44% increase in population overall from 1970 to 2008, that the prison population growth rate is 700% during that same time period.  We’re told that this “outpaces” crime rates, but I find this confusing.  If the crime rates are not as high as the prison population growth, is the implied message that innocent people are being incarcerated?  With some blocks of stick figures, we’re given some demographic information, that 1 in 106 white males 18 or older is in prison, 1 in 36 Hispanic males 18 or older is in prison, and that 1 in 15 black males 18 or older is imprisoned.  At a glance, this looks terrible – that so many more black men and Hispanic men are imprisoned than white men, but the supporting data that would show the cause for incarceration is missing.  Though the creator of the infographic went to the trouble of drawing a line between violent and nonviolent offenders, the demographic information does not draw in that data regarding the percentages of each demographic incarcerated for violent vs. nonviolent crimes, and though the description provided says something about the war on drugs, drugs are not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the infographic.

Design:  B

The graphics and typefaces are fine.  Perhaps the prison graphic takes up too much space, but the colors used are appropriate and the images tell a story.  The supporting data does not.

Information:  D

This infographic gives facts without context, which shows bias.  Bias shows a certain vulnerability regarding factual accuracy, and the point of this infographic is lost.  The way the information is presented, and how one piece of information is disconnected from the other does a great disservice to the message this piece was supposed to send.

VIA:  mass incarceration

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