Thinking Globally Goes Viral

Our report goes viral and takes down our website. This is a good problem to have.

by Sarah Hertel-Fernandez, June 27, 2014 was down for almost four hours on Thursday afternoon. The cause? Our report showing each U.S. state’s use of the prison into an international context, released two weeks ago, had gone viral in an unprecedented way. With 185 requests every second, the website couldn’t keep up. This was a good problem to have….

The report vividly illustrates that, when compared to the rest of the world, the United States is quite literally off the charts:

The National Institute of Corrections says of our “excellent” graphic and report:

“This is required reading for those people striving to reform the correctional system in the United States…. or anyone concerned with issues related to confinement…. It definitively shows that the use of incarceration by individual states dwarfs the utilization of imprisonment around the world.”

It was gratifying to see so many people and organizations use the data to draw their own connections and conclusions:

Brian Smith wrote a great piece for about the report:

Michigan’s rate is below the national rate, at 628 inmates per 100,000, but that’s still high enough to exceed every other country in the world.

Vox’s German Lopez wrote an article pairing the chart with information about the rise of incarceration in the U.S. and its causes.

“Even the most liberal state in America has a higher incarceration rate than most other countries around the world… Vermont, the state with the lowest incarceration rate, still imprisons people at far higher rates than countries like New Zealand, the UK, and even conflict-torn Israel.”

And others offered international context:

It was particularly exciting to see some of the articles emphasize the report’s methodology and indirectly refer to our work urging the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people as residents of their legal home addresses instead of their remote prison cells. See this example from Eileen Shim on

One important thing to keep in mind is that these numbers are taken from the 2010 US Census, which counts inmates as residents of the states where they are behind bars. As such, it does not accurately reflect where the inmates are actually from, since a large portion of the incarcerated population happen to be in federal or state prisons in states they are not originally from. Still, as Prison Policy Initiative notes, “State politics certainly influence whether and where federal prisons are built,” and it’s worth knowing which states decide to open their doors to more inmates.

So if you haven’t had a chance to check out States of Incarceration: The Global Context, a collaboration between Executive Director Peter Wagner and Senior Policy Analyst Leah Sakala at the Prison Policy Initiative and Data Artist Josh Begley, now is the time.

And if you enjoyed the report, please consider making a donation today to help us pay for the server upgrade we need keep producing this kind of content and sharing it with the world.

One response:

  1. Cyndi says:

    Simply, thank you for spreading awareness.

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