get out the map

January 5, 2007

If you haven’t read my post of questions about ‘femme’ yet, or if you have and you haven’t posted comments or thoughts (most of you, dear readers), please do so now. Clicky clicky.

Moving on. I am finally caught up on my New Yorker reading – thank goodness for the holiday issue, which covered two weeks. Next week’s Talk of the Town has a great little piece about mapping the home neighborhoods/streets of incarcerated New Yorkers (full text). I, personally, love maps. I live in a country (and a city, more specifically) that is so obsessed with itself that its residents know little about the geography of the rest of the world. I try not to be that New Yorker. New Yorkers do love maps of their own city, as demonstrated by Gothamist’s Map of the Day. And as we learn, maps can be revealing.

This map reveal[s] that more prison-bound Bronx residents lived in walkups than in any other type of building, that Staten Island is the most law-abiding borough, and that Brooklyn— nicknamed “the borough of churches”—ran up the state’s highest bill in prison costs.

The rest of the short article (It’s short, seriously. Worth the 5 minutes) goes into a little bit of detail about what the color-coded map revealed about certain neighborhoods: Bed-Sty, several in the South Bronx, and the Upper East Side, for example. The great part is when the map-makers calculate how much certain blocks are worth vis a vis of how much money the government has put into incarcerating them:

Cadora and his team calculated every block’s prison costs by multiplying the minimum sentence of each incarcerated person by his estimated annual prison fees ($32,400), then adding these numbers together. By this logic, a serial killer on Fifth Avenue who gets a life sentence could make up his own million-dollar block. The borough with the most million-dollar blocks is Manhattan (“mainly because the blocks are so small”); the city’s most expensive block in 2003, a housing project along Harlem River Drive, not far from Yankee Stadium, cost the state $6.2 million and had forty-nine of its six hundred and eighty-nine male residents put behind bars.

The point of this whole project?

Cadora and his team believe that their map depicts a system spending millions to imprison people but little on the communities to which they return.

I don’t know if I can say much more. A picture is worth 1,000 words, I guess. It’s unbelievable that we can spend so much money imprisoning a person and spending nothing on improving the environment from which that person came. Talk about fixing a symptom without bothering to figure out what the problem is.

Full text here. See also the Prisoners of the Census website (A project of the Prison Policy Initiative). You can see the Brooklyn section of the map here.


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