Voices of Justice: Telling the story of California’s prisons

Perhaps the greatest irony in modern America lies within our prison system.

The Land of the Free holds 5 percent of the world’s population but incarcerates 25 percent of the world’s reported prisoners.

This means that 2.38 million Americans are in prison – 5 times the world average. The number jumps to 7.3 million when those on probation or parole are included:

The California corrections crisis
In no state is this problem more apparent than California:

  • In total, California’s 33 adult prisons (shown on the map above) are at just over 200% capacity — almost 165,000 inmates in a system designed for 84,653. Inmates are squeezed into cells, closets and gyms. Staffers’ security is frequently at risk
  • Between 50 to 70 percent of all released offenders in California go back to prison
  • The fastest growing sector of the inmate population is males over 50, while the cost of incarcerating an inmate over the age of 55 averages $69,000 per year, three times the cost of housing a younger inmate
  • In a state already close to bankrupt, the corrections system costs taxpayers roughly $9-10 billion per year

The Voices of Justice project
Voice of Justice (VoJ) is a map-based blog that will combine life stories told by prisoners, parolees, crime victims, parole officers and prison employees with data visualizations about the criminal justice system in order to raise public awareness about the crisis ballooning in the California prison system and the U.S. as a whole.

How we’ll tell the story:
In order to build VoJ, I’m are going to travel around California visiting the state’s jails and prisons — interviewing prisoners, correctional professionals and academics. We’re then going to travel to those urban neighborhoods in California that the vast majority of prisoners come from (in L.A. and Alameda counties) to interview parolees, parole officers, sheriffs, victims, teachers and families. I’ll convert all these interviews into short stories and post them as blog entries on the VoJ website, coupling them with data visualizations in order to provide fresh perspective on the current circumstance.

The idea is to enable interviewees to tell their stories, to create empathy and understanding between readers and storytellers, and to try and develop a better understanding of the moral and environmental factors that underpin our state and nationwide crisis.

At its core, the project seeks to contribute to the building of better communities and corrections systems by enabling transparency, sparking communication and increasing understanding between the American public, criminal justice professionals and the people we’ve locked behind bars.

Mapping California’s Prisons:

Posted on by Luke Whyte |

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