I need your help.
I co-founded the Prison Policy Initiative to put the problem of mass incarceration — and the perverse incentives that fuel it — on the national agenda. Over the last 17 years, our campaigns have protected our democracy from the prison system and protected the poorest families in this country from the predatory prison telephone industry. Our reports untangle the statistics and recruit new allies.

But now, more than ever, we need your help to put data & compassion into the conversation. Any gift you can make today will be matched by other donors and go twice as far.

Thank you.
—Peter Wagner, Executive DirectorDonate

Michigan ACLU uses our map, testifies against harmful loitering bill

We produced a map to illustrate the ACLU’s testimony against a counterproductive zone law.

by Peter Wagner, October 17, 2013

The Michigan ACLU testified yesterday against a bill proposing counterproductive and ineffective restrictions on where people on the sex offender registry would be allowed to “loiter”. This bill would expand the current restrictions to also include all areas within 1,000 feet of a day care center, creating “a nearly impossible burden on listed offenders and on law enforcement.” Here at the Prison Policy Initiative, we produced a map to illustrate the ACLU’s testimony by demonstrating that the simple-sounding law would blanket dense urban areas with a confusing pattern of imperceptible zones.

map showing how a law drawing 1000ft no-loitering zones around 10,000 day care centers would blanket the city of Lansing Michigan

Our map showing that most of the Michigan capital city of Lansing is within 1,000 feet of just two dozen of the 10,729 day care centers in the state.

Litigator Kung Li stopped by our office in August to talk about her experience working with us on the Southern Center for Human Rights’ Whitaker v. Perdue case.

We’ve also prepared similar analysis for court cases in Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts and elsewhere. This work grew out of our research on sentencing enhancement zones, the drug laws that give enhanced penalties based on where an offense occurs, not on its dangerousness. These laws are all too common, and the basic differences are the number of protected places, the distances involved, and how that distance is to be measured.

In all the cases we’ve looked at, a few key points about geography and geometry keep coming back:

  • Drawing large circles around thousands of places blankets entire cities in “protected” or “off-limits” areas.
  • Doubling the distance in one of these statutes makes the protected area four times as large (remember pi r squared?).
  • 1,000 feet — and most distances, for that matter — are actually much further than most people assume.
  • Laws that measure the distance as the crow flies extend coverage to areas that are, for all practical purposes, very far away.
  • Laws that measure the distance on a property line-to-property line basis cover considerably more area than simple 1,000 foot circles drawn around the center point of a particular property.

Most importantly, however, the laws that fail to work as intended share the same fundamental flaw of covering too much area. This might sound like it would produce more safety but it actually produces less for the simple reason that when you make everywhere special, nowhere is special.

Peter Wagner is Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. (Other articles | Full bio | Contact)

One Response

  1. […] to an incarcerated person, everything from a phone call to a loved one to where one is allowed to live is incredibly complicated. For many, life becomes gnarled by the opaque bureaucracy that maintains […]

Tweet this page Follow @PrisonPolicy on Twitter Donate

Stay Informed

Get the latest updates by signing up for our newsletters:

And our specialty lists:


Nothing scheduled right now. Invite us to to your city, college or organization.