Where people in prison come from:
The geography of mass incarceration in California

by Emily Widra and Felicia Gomez   Tweet this
August 2022
Press release

One of the most important criminal legal system disparities in California has long been difficult to decipher: Which communities throughout the state do incarcerated people come from? Anyone who lives in, works within heavily policed and incarcerated communities, or who has an incarcerated loved one intuitively knows that certain neighborhoods disproportionately experience incarceration. But data have never been available to quantify how many people from each community are imprisoned with any real precision.1

20 detailed tables to help you find incarceration data from your California community

The datasets linked below provide the number of people from each California community known to be in the state’s prisons at the time of the 2020 Census. We provide 20 different tables for different types of communities.

This unique data source makes it possible to study imprisonment rates directly (rather than relying on prison admission and release data), and at more useful levels of analysis than just the county or zip code. Community advocates and policymakers can use these data to examine how incarceration impacts the communities they serve, as well as advocate for and inform decisions about changes that will best serve the needs of people in these communities.

But now, thanks to redistricting reform that ensures incarcerated people are counted correctly in the legislative districts they come from, we can understand the geography of incarceration in California. California is one of over a dozen states that have ended prison gerrymandering, and now count incarcerated people where they legally reside — at their home address — rather than in remote prison cells. This type of reform, as we often discuss, is crucial for ending the siphoning of political power from disproportionately Black and Latino communities, to pad out the mostly rural and often predominantly white regions where prisons are located. And when reforms like California’s are implemented, they bring along a convenient side effect: In order to correctly represent each community’s population counts, states must collect detailed state-wide data on where imprisoned people call home, which is otherwise impossible to access.

Using this redistricting data, we found that in California, incarcerated people come from all over the state, but the largest number of imprisoned people are from the state’s large cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, and Fresno. Surprisingly, a handful of less populous and more rural counties — like Kings, Shasta, Tehama, and Yuba counties — and even some smaller cities — including Avenal, Red Bluff, Corcoran, and Sonora — have high imprisonment rates3 as well, suggesting that people all over California are affected by the state’s reliance on mass incarceration.

In addition to helping policy makers and advocates effectively bring reentry and diversion resources to these communities, this data has far-reaching implications. Around the country, high imprisonment rates are correlated with other community issues related to poverty, employment, education, and health. These cumulative impacts of incarceration are particularly stark for Black women, contributing to their astronomically higher rates of maternity complications and rates of Black infant mortality.

Researchers, scholars, advocates, and politicians can use the data in this report to advocate for bringing more resources to their communities.

  • map of California showing incarceration rate by county with top imprisonment counties labeled
  • map of Los Angeles showing imprisonment rate by neighborhood
  • map of San Francisco showing imprisonment rate by neighborhood
  • California
  • Los Angeles
  • San Francisco
   

Incarcerated people come from all over California — but disproportionately from some places more than others

More than 122,000 California residents are locked up in state prisons, leaving the state with an imprisonment rate of 310 per 100,000 California residents.4 While no region of California is immune to the consequences of the state’s reliance on mass incarceration, some communities are disproportionately impacted by imprisonment.

County trends

Every single county in the state — and every congressional and state legislative district — is missing a portion of its population to incarceration in state prison. Counties that contain urban or more densely populated areas — like Los Angeles County (which is home to more than 10 million Californians) and the nearby counties of Riverside, San Bernandino, and Orange — tend to send the most people to prison. However, as this residence data shows, the idea that incarceration is a problem uniquely experienced in large cities is a myth: a handful of less populous California counties have disproportionately high imprisonment rates.

In central California, Kings County and Tulare County stand out as two of California’s least populous counties with high rates of imprisonment. Kings County, which is home to less than 200,000 people, has the highest imprisonment rate in the state at 666 people in state prison per 100,000. The county directly to the east, Tulare County with a population under 475,000 people, has an imprisonment rate of 474 per 100,000.

In northern California, a handful of smaller counties — including Shasta, Tehama, Yuba, Siskiyou, Lake, and Del Norte counties5 — all have imprisonment rates more than 1.5 times higher than the state as a whole, meaning that these northern counties are sending large portions of their relatively small populations to state prison.

In the more populous counties, thousands of people are incarcerated, but because the county populations are so large, the proportion of people incarcerated is slightly lower than many less populated counties. Los Angeles County has an imprisonment rate of 402 per 100,000,6 which means that at the time of the 2020 Census, more than 40,000 people in California state prisons called Los Angeles County home. Riverside County has 9,340 people in prison at an imprisonment rate of 386 per 100,000 residents, and San Diego County has 8,799 people in prison at a rate of 267 per 100,000 residents.

Native land and imprisonment of indigenous people across California

Nationally, we know that Native American people7 are overrepresented in state prison systems. In California, the imprisonment rate of Native people in 2020 was 177 per 100,000, while the imprisonment rate of white people was 116 per 100,000.8 These numbers only tell a part of the story, though.

By diving deeper into this dataset we get a more full picture of the devastating impact of mass incarceration on reservation communities.9 Some areas of federally recognized tribal land — including the Fort Mojave Reservation and Big Valley Rancheria — have imprisonment rates more than five times the imprisonment rate of Los Angeles. The disparities in these communities are even more stark when you compare the state as a whole. For example, residents of the Rohnerville Rancheria are imprisoned at a rate that is ten-times higher than the state average.

Even when you examine all reservation and trust land in California as a collective whole, the imprisonment rate is still 534 per 100,000, which is still higher than the imprisonment rate of most California cities and significantly higher than the state average.

Racial and ethnic disparities permeate all levels of the criminal legal system which is made possible by carceral facilities operating on the unceded territory of the Indigenous and Native peoples of this land. Additionally, we can see evidence that disparities in policing contribute to the higher rates of imprisonment of Native Americans. Indigenous people, too, experience higher rates of imprisonment, and we can see evidence that disparities in policing contribute to the higher rates of imprisonment of Native people. For example, in the predominantly rural county of Siskiyou, the small city of Yreka (total population of less than 8,000 people) has a population that is 5.5% Native American, but Native Americans make up 11% of arrests by the Yreka Police Department.

City trends

While incarceration affects every part of the state, certain cities, both large and small, are disproportionately affected by incarceration. Among the 76 California cities with at least 100,000 residents, Lancaster10 and Inglewood, both in Los Angeles County, have the highest imprisonment rates at 691 per 100,000 and 585 per 100,000 people, respectively. Following closely behind is California’s sixth most populous city — the state’s capital, Sacramento — with an imprisonment rate of 558 per 100,000 people. And, Fresno, Riverside, and Salinas are also among the cities with the highest imprisonment rates (461, 457, and 420 people in prison per 100,000 city residents, respectively).

The city of Compton, in Los Angeles County, with a population just shy of 100,000, has an imprisonment rate of 980 per 100,000 residents. Among cities with more than 20,000 residents, Compton’s imprisonment rate is the highest, and is more than three-times the state average. Those familiar with racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal legal system may not find Compton’s high imprisonment rate surprising: It is well documented that Black and Latino or Hispanic communities are overrepresented in the state prison population and Compton’s population is 28% Black and 69% Hispanic or Latino, compared to the statewide population that is less than 7% Black and 40% Hispanic or Latino. Further, we know that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD)11 disproportionately arrests Black residents: Black people account for 18% of the LASD’s arrests, but the county population is only 7% Black. Moreover, Black LGBTQ+ people are incarcerated at extremely high rates; in LA County Black people are 30% of the jail population, and in the jail’s LGBT units, 40% of people are Black. This suggests that policing, arrests, and incarceration are disproportionately concentrated in a handful of Black communities across the county, such as Compton with its large Black population.

Compton’s demographics are not the result of coincidence, but rather design: In the 1950s, the city was one of the starkest examples of “blockbusting” in the country. Blockbusting was a state-sanctioned predatory real estate practice, in which brokers “intentionally stoked fears of racial integration and declining property values to push white homeowners to sell at a loss,” and then resold the properties to Black families at above-market rates. Black families seeking the “American dream” found themselves owning declining-value homes in a city that was experiencing rapid divestment from industry and businesses — and therefore losing job opportunities and tax income. Poorer communities of color, like Compton, have experienced decades of systematic oppression and divestment by the public and private sectors, as well as a history of heavy policing— leaving them particularly vulnerable to a modern-day reliance on mass incarceration, particularly in the age of COVID-19, which has exacerbated anti-Black inequity. This has a particularly disproportionately harmful impact on Black who have incarcerated loved ones “who are the unseen and uncompensated care workers on the frontline in the fight against the virus behind bars.”

Additionally, some of California’s highest incarceration rates are found in smaller, poorer cities. For example, Corcoran and Oroville, both with populations just over 20,000 people, had imprisonment rates of 865 per 100,000 residents and 738 per 100,000 residents, respectively, meaning both cities lock up people at a rate well above twice the state average. As we know that nationwide, people in prison tend to have been among the poorest people in the country before their incarceration, it is unsurprising to find that the cities of Corcoran and Oroville have higher rates of poverty than the state at large, with 29% of Corcoran residents and 26% of Oroville residents living below the poverty line, compared to 12% statewide. We also know that incarceration fuels the cycle of poverty, suggesting that these smaller California cities are also in need of focused resources and support to reduce the reliance on the criminal legal system that perpetuates poverty.

Neighborhood trends

Los Angeles

map comparing imprisonment rates in two Los Angeles neighborhoods: Westwood and Green Meadows

Imprisonment trends in Los Angeles are invariably tied to the racial disparities in policing and throughout the criminal-legal system. In South Central L.A., the Green Meadows neighborhood is 44% Black, while on the Westside of L.A., the Westwood neighborhood is 63% white and only 2% Black. Policing across the entire city of Los Angeles tends to disproportionately impact Black residents and communities.

Los Angeles is the state’s largest city, with almost three times as many residents as the next most populous city of San Diego. Los Angeles has a long history of racist policing and divesting from its communities of color. With this context, it is not surprising that Black and Latino communities in Los Angeles experience disproportionate policing and imprisonment, just as they do elsewhere around the country. In Los Angeles, the 14 neighborhoods12 with the highest imprisonment rates are all clustered in South Central Los Angeles — a predominately non-white region of the city — where 57% of residents are Latino, 38% are Black, and 2% are white. We don’t have policing or arrest data by race for South Central L.A., but citywide policing data shows that while only 8% of the city’s population is Black, Black people make up 30% of Los Angeles city arrests.

Undoubtedly, socioeconomic status and poverty also play into neighborhood differences in all levels of involvement in the criminal-legal system. The South Central L.A. neighborhoods with the highest incarceration rates have median incomes far below the city average. It is clear that high-incarceration South Central L.A. neighborhoods — including Green Meadows, Watts, Manchester Square, Broadway-Manchester, and Vermont Vista (which all have imprisonment rates over 930 per 100,000) — are simultaneously facing a host of other challenges and systemic disadvantages that combine to make almost every aspect of life difficult.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles neighborhoods with the lowest imprisonment rates are mostly in the Westside region. These neighborhoods are predominately white, and much wealthier than their South Central L.A. counterparts. For example, among neighborhoods with more than 1,000 residents, the lowest imprisonment neighborhoods (ranging from 131 per 100,000 to 154 per 100,000) — Cheviot Hills, Bel-Air, Playa Vista, Century City, West Los Angeles, and Westwood — are all among some of the whitest communities in the city, and all have higher median incomes than the rest of the city.

San Francisco

map comparing imprisonment rates in two San Francisco neighborhoods: Parkside and Bayview

The Parkside neighborhood — historically white and considered one of the “best” neighborhoods during redlining — has a relatively low imprisonment rate. Across the city, the neighborhood of Bayview imprisons residents at a rate of 335 per 100,000. Bayview was considered one of the most “hazardous” areas during redlining, and remains a predominately Black neighborhood.

The citywide imprisonment rate of 118 per 100,000 people in San Francisco is about three times lower than that of Los Angeles, but residence data show that some San Francisco communities — particularly predominantly Black communities — are disproportionately affected by mass incarceration. The citywide population is 5% Black, but 38% of people arrested by the San Francisco Police Department are Black. In 2021, Black people were stopped at a rate more than five and half times that of white people in the city and were ten times as likely to be searched as white people.

Given the disproportionate policing of Black San Franciscans, it is not surprising that predominantly Black communities in San Francisco have higher imprisonment rates than the rest of the city. For example, the historically Black Bayview neighborhood has an imprisonment rate of 335 per 100,000 residents, almost three times higher than the citywide imprisonment rate.

Historically, San Francisco is one of the starkest examples of redlining in the country. In the 1930s, the federal government rated the “riskiness” of real estate investment in different neighborhoods, resulting in rating non-white neighborhoods as “hazardous” and beginning a cycle of disinvestment in these predominately Black and immigrant neighborhoods. A 2019 study of formerly redlined neighborhoods in over 100 cities found that these neighborhoods are lower-income and are more likely to be home to Black and Hispanic or Latino residents. The neighborhoods with the highest incarceration rates in San Francisco 2020 are also the neighborhoods that were “redlined” in the mid-20th century. Decades of systematic oppression and divestment from poorer communities of color — which we know are heavily policed — have left these historically redlined communities particularly vulnerable to California’s modern-day reliance on mass incarceration.

While all communities are missing some of their loved ones to incarceration, in places where large numbers of adults — parents, workers, voters — are locked up, incarceration has a broader community impact. The large number of adults extracted from a relatively small number of geographical areas seriously impacts the health and stability of the families and communities left behind. It specifically impacts women and gender non-conforming people, where 1 in 4 women and 1 in 2 Black women have an incarcerated loved one. Generally, women who have an incarcerated loved one experience profound health implications. However, racial disparities exist in women’s health because Black women, specifically, experience mass incarceration disproportionately. Further, the incarceration of a loved one is financially destabilizing and women are the ones who absorb the immediate financial costs of incarceration, such as attorney’s fees, court fees, and bail, all at the same time that they may be losing the financial support of their incarcerated loved one. During the period of a loved one’s incarceration, many women are forced to deviate from personal plans that might have led to longer term stability in order to address the immediate needs of their loved one’s incarceration and the needs of other family members. Women bear the costs of phone calls, prison visits, and commissary bills. Most commonly, women with incarcerated loved ones work more hours, change jobs, miss out on job opportunities, and cannot pursue their own education.13

   

What are the differences between high- and low-incarceration communities?

In California and elsewhere across the country, researchers have connected high local incarceration rates with a host of negative outcomes for the people who live there.

In the Prison Policy Initiative’s analysis of where incarcerated people in Maryland are from in 2015, we found that Baltimore communities with high rates of incarceration were more likely to have high unemployment rates, long average commute times, low household income, a high percentage of residents with less than a high school diploma or GED, decreased life expectancy, high rates of vacant or abandoned properties, and higher rates of children with elevated blood-lead levels, compared to neighborhoods less impacted by incarceration. Such results are strictly correlational, suggesting that communities that are heavily affected by incarceration are simultaneously facing a host of other challenges and systemic disadvantages that combine to make almost every aspect of life difficult.

These geographic disparities are not an accident, but are the result of long-standing racist policies and decisions about where to invest resources rather than the result of criminality or other behavioral issues within communities of color. As previous research has shown, practices and policies across the country related to arrests, drug enforcement (including marijuana arrests in New York and California), searches (including stop-and-frisk), pretrial detention, bail decisions, drug stings, and asset forfeiture have contributed to these racial disparities at every level of the criminal legal system.

Research reveals the numerous correlations14 between imprisonment and other consequences of underinvestment in community wellbeing:

  • Life expectancy: A 2021 analysis of New York State census tracts found that tracts with the highest incarceration rates had an average life expectancy more than two years shorter than tracts with the lowest incarceration rates, even when controlling for other population differences.15 And a 2019 analysis of counties across the country revealed that higher levels of incarceration are associated with both higher morbidity (poor or fair health) and mortality (shortened life expectancy).
  • Community health: A nationwide study, published in 2019, found that rates of incarceration were associated with a more than 50% increase in drug-related deaths from county to county. And a 2018 study found that Black people living in Atlanta neighborhoods with high incarceration rates are more likely to have poor cardiometabolic health profiles.
    An analysis of North Carolina data from 1995 to 2002 revealed that counties with increased incarceration rates had higher rates of both teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). A 2015 study of Atlanta also found that census tracts with higher rates of incarceration had higher rates of newly diagnosed STIs.16 In a 2015 study, for example, researchers found that San Francisco census tracts with high incarceration rates also faced disproportionately heightened rates of sexual transmitted infections (STIs) among adolescent girls and young women.
  • Mental health: A 2015 study found that people living in Detroit neighborhoods with high prison admission rates were more likely to be screened as having a current or lifetime major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Exposure to environmental dangers: A 2021 study found that people who grew up in U.S. census tracts with higher levels of traffic-related air pollution and housing-derived lead risk were more likely to be incarcerated as adults, even when controlling for other factors.
    In New York City, neighborhood incarceration rate is associated with asthma prevalence among adults. Similarly, in our 2020 analysis of New York City neighborhoods, we found higher rates of asthma among children in communities with high incarceration rates.17
  • Education: In a 2020 Prison Policy Initiative analysis of incarcerated New Yorkers’ neighborhoods of origin, we found a strong correlation between neighborhood imprisonment rates and standardized test scores.18 And a 2017 report on incarceration in Worcester, Massachusetts, found that schools in the city’s high-incarceration neighborhoods tended to be lower-performing. What’s more, students in those neighborhoods faced more disciplinary infractions.
  • Community resources and engagement: A 2018 study found that throughout the country, formerly incarcerated people (as well as all people who have been arrested or convicted of a crime) are more likely than their non-justice-involved counterparts to live in a census tract with low access to healthy food retailers. And the 2017 report on Worcester, Massachusetts, revealed that high-incarceration neighborhoods had lower voter turnout in municipal elections.

We already have this wealth of data showing that incarceration rates correlate with a variety of barriers and negative outcomes. The data in this report build on this work by helping identify which specific neighborhoods throughout California are systematically disadvantaged and left behind. California residents can use the data in this report to examine granular local-level and state-wide correlations and choose to allocate needed resources to places hardest hit by incarceration.

   

Implications & uses of these data

These 20 data tables provided here have great potential for community advocacy and future research.

First and most obviously, these data can be used to determine the best locations for community-based programs that help prevent involvement with the criminal legal system, such as Offices of Community Safety as described in the BREATHE Act and mental health response teams that work independently from police departments as modeled statewide through the passage of the CRISES Act (AB 2054, 2020) in California. The data can also help guide reentry services (which are typically provided by nonprofit community organizations) to areas of California that need them most.

But even beyond the obvious need for reentry services and other programs to prevent criminal legal system involvement, our findings also point to geographic areas that deserve greater investment in programs and services that indirectly prevent criminal legal involvement and mitigate the harm of incarceration. After all, decades of research show that imprisonment leads to cascading collateral consequences, both for individuals and their loved ones. When large numbers of people disappear from a community, their absences are felt in countless ways. They leave behind loved ones, including children, who experience trauma, emotional distress, and financial strain. Women specifically report that the incarceration of their loved one caused them to experience stress, anxiety, anger, depression, loneliness, migraines, insomnia, and fatigue. Simultaneously, the large numbers of people returning to these communities (since the vast majority of incarcerated people do return home) face a host of reentry challenges and collateral consequences of incarceration, including difficulty finding employment and a lack of housing. People impacted by the criminal legal system tend to have extremely diminished wealth accumulation. And those returning from prison and jail may carry back to their communities PTSD and other mental health issues from the trauma they’ve experienced and witnessed behind bars. Lastly, investing in core community resources to mitigate structural issues like poverty, such as housing and healthcare, will reduce vulnerabilities for criminal legal system contact.

And since we know place of origin correlates with so many other metrics of wellbeing, we can and should target these communities for support and resources beyond what we typically think of as interventions to prevent criminal legal system contact. In communities where the state or city has heavily invested in policing and incarceration (i.e., the high-incarceration neighborhoods we find in our analysis), our findings suggest that those resources would be better put toward reducing poverty and improving local health, education, and employment opportunities by passing and implementing policies in alignment with the BREATHE Act. The BREATHE Act is the Movement for Black Lives’ visionary federal bill proposal that offers a radical reimagining of public safety, community care, and how we spend money as a society.

For example, we know that large numbers of children in high incarceration areas may be growing up with the trauma and lost resources that come along with having an incarcerated parent, and that these children are also more likely to experience incarceration. The information in this report can help with planning and targeting supports, resources, and programming designed to not only respond to the harms caused by incarceration, but disrupt the cycle of familial incarceration. We also know that women with an incarcerated loved one are more likely to live in high incarceration areas. The information in this report can also help with identifying resources, programming, and investments designed to report to the unique ways that women and gender non-conforming people experience the harms of being directly impacted by incarceration to ensure all women can thrive.

We invite community leaders, service providers, policymakers, and researchers to use this data to make further connections between mass incarceration and various outcomes, to better understand the impact of incarceration on their communities.

About California’s law ending prison gerrymandering

This report uses the redistricting data produced by California’s historic 2011 law ending prison gerrymandering. “Prison gerrymandering” is the practice of drawing representative districts that count people in prison as legal residents of the prison, thereby inflating the political clout of people in districts with prisons, and diluting the influence of residents in all other districts. It is the result of a longstanding flaw in the U.S. Census, which counts incarcerated people as residents of their prison or jail cells on Census Day.

Ideally, the Census Bureau would update its methodology for this era of mass incarceration by counting imprisoned people at home. When the Bureau rejected calls to fix the problem for the 2010 Census, California became the fourth state to develop and enact creative state-level legislative solutions to correct this flaw in the Census Bureau’s data thus ending prison gerrymandering in California.

It is noteworthy that prior to AB420 and subsequent prison gerrymandering reform passing in the state, many California counties with state prisons explicitly avoided prison-based gerrymandering in local redistricting by excluding prisons from the populations used to redistrict. However, four counties containing prisons included the prison populations when drawing their districts following the 2010 Census, including Solano County, where imprisoned people accounted for over 10% of Supervisory District 4.

In the 2020 Census, about 23% of the people counted as residents of Lassen County and 8% of the people counted as residents of Kings County were actually people locked up in state prisons located in those counties. But with California’s legislative reforms in place, the state adjusted its own redistricting data to count their incarcerated residents at home.

The legislative effort to end prison gerrymandering and ensure equal representation for all California residents was supported by many democracy, civil rights, and criminal justice groups.

   

Methodology & data

This report capitalizes on the unique opportunity presented by California’s ending of prison gerrymandering, which allows us to determine accurately for the first time where people incarcerated in state prisons come from. In this report’s linked datasets, we aggregate these data by a number of useful state-wide geographies such as counties, state legislative districts, school districts, and cities, and for some urban geographies such as neighborhoods in Los Angeles, city council districts in Fresno and San Jose, and community planning areas in San Francisco and San Diego.

This section of the report discusses how we processed the data, some important context and limitations on that data, and some additional context about the geographies we have chosen to include in this report and appendices. The goal of this report is not to have the final word on the geographic concentration of incarceration, but to empower researchers and advocates — both inside and outside of the field of criminal justice research — to use our dataset for their own purposes. For example, if you are an expert on a particular kind of social disadvantage and have some data organized by county, zip code, school district, or other breakdown and want to add imprisonment data to your dataset, we probably have exactly what you need in a prepared appendix described below.

This report and its data are one in a series of similar reports we are releasing in 2022, focusing on 13 states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington — which counted incarcerated people at home for redistricting purposes, and therefore also made this analysis possible. This report can also be seen as a template for other states because while not all states have ended prison gerrymandering, most state departments of corrections already have near-complete home residence records in an electronic format. States that have not yet ended prison gerrymandering should be encouraged to continue improving their data collection, and to share the data (under appropriate privacy protections) so that similar analyses could be performed.

Ideally, a report like this would have also included an analysis of imprisonment rates by gender, by race, and by ethnicity. Unfortunately, the redistricting dataset used for this report does not include gender data,19 so that aspect was not possible; and while race and ethnicity calculations were technically possible, we choose to invest our limited resources into emphasizing the correlations between clusters of incarceration and racial segregation patterns.

How we processed the data

California’s law ending prison gerrymandering required the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation20 to share the home addresses of people in state prisons on Census Day 2020 with redistricting officials, so that these officials could remove imprisoned people from the redistricting populations reported by the Census for the facilities’ locations and properly credit people to their home communities. The adjusted data was then made available for state and local officials to use to draw new legislative boundaries. As a side effect, this groundbreaking dataset allows researchers to talk in detail for the first time about where incarcerated people came from.

Creating the tables in this report required several steps which were expertly performed by Peter Horton at Redistricting Data Hub:

  1. Downloading California’s adjusted redistricting data, which contains the state’s entire population, with the people incarcerated in state prisons reallocated to their home addresses.
  2. Subtracting the state’s redistricting data from the original Census Bureau P.L. 94-171 redistricting data, to produce a file that represented the number of incarcerated people the state determined were from each census block state-wide. (Census blocks that showed a net gain of population following the reallocation were the Census blocks that incarcerated people were reallocated to, and the amount of that change was the number of people from that block who were incarcerated in a state prison on Census day. For a different analysis that focused on both the net gains and net decreases in individual census blocks and then aggregated to counties and the final redistricting plans, see Peter Horton’s report for Redistricting Data Hub on California.
  3. Aggregating these block-level counts of incarcerated people to each of the geography types available in the report. In cases where a census block containing an incarcerated person’s home address straddles the boundary between two geographies, the incarcerated population was applied to the geography that contained the largest portion of the census block’s area.
  4. Calculating imprisonment rates for each geography, by first calculating a corrected population that shows the Census 2020 population plus the number of incarcerated people from that geography; and then dividing the number of incarcerated people by the corrected total population, and then multiplying it by 100,000 to get an imprisonment rate per 100,000.

Important context and limitations on this data

Our analysis in this report documents the home addresses of 122,393 people in state prisons, which is somewhat less than the state’s total prison population of 122,730 on Census day. These numbers are different for a variety of reasons, including policy choices made when the legislation ending prison gerrymandering was created and others are just the practical outcome of valiant state efforts to improve federal census data, or the process of repurposing that dataset for this entirely different project.

From the perspective of improving democracy in California, the state’s reallocation efforts were an unqualified success, reducing both the unearned enhancement of political representation in prison-hosting areas and reducing the dilution of representation in the highest-incarceration districts. From the perspective of using that data to discuss the concentration of incarceration, some readers may want to be aware of some the reasons why our report discusses the home addresses of 122,393 people when they may be aware that the state prison system had 122,730 people on Census day:

  • Some people in California state prisons are from other states and therefore were not reallocated to homes in California.
  • Some addresses were unknown or could not be located for the reallocation. For example, an address on file may be incomplete or may contain only the notation “homeless” which of course cannot be applied to a specific home census block.
  • Anyone whose home address by coincidence happens to be in a census block that contains a correctional facility would have been properly reallocated for purposes of ending prison gerrymandering, but their presence at that location would not, because of how we created our dataset, be apparent in this report.

Similarly, this report doesn’t reflect the other groups of people incarcerated from particular communities who are not reflected in these data, because21 they were:

  • Incarcerated in a federal prison, because states do not have the power to require home address data from federal agencies.
  • Incarcerated in another state’s prison system. States cannot require other states to share this information, and the fact that so many states are ending prison gerrymandering is too new of a phenomenon for them to have had the chance to enter into inter-state data sharing agreements.
  • Incarcerated in a local jail, in this state or elsewhere; because the state’s effort to remedy prison gerrymandering was focused on state prisons.

About the geographies

We’ve organized the data in this report around several popular geographies, as defined by the federal government, by the state, or by individual cities, with the idea that the reader can link our data to the wealth of existing social indicator data already available from other sources.

Unfortunately, the reader may desire data for a specific geography that we have not made available — for example, their own neighborhood, as they conceive of its boundaries. Often, there was not a readily accessible and official map that we could use that defined that boundary; so where the reader has this need, we urge the reader to look for other geographies in our datasets that can be easily adapted to their needs, either one that is similar enough to their preferred geography or by aggregating several smaller geographies together to match your preferred geography.

We also want to caution subsequent users of this data that some geographies change frequently and others change rarely, so they should note the vintage of the maps we used to produce each table. For example, county boundaries change very rarely, and when they do, it is often in extremely small ways. On the other hand, legislative districts may change frequently and significantly, so depending on your goals some specific tables may be more or less applicable for your future use.

Finally, readers should note that occasionally the incarcerated numbers in our tables for some geographies may not always sum precisely to the total 122,393 home addresses used in this report. That discrepancy arises because of how census blocks — the basic building block of legislative districts — nest or fail to nest within geographies drawn by agencies other than the Census Bureau.

   

Footnotes

  1. Criminal legal system data is often poorly tracked, meaning researchers must cobble together information from different sources. But by using complete data from state redistricting committees, this report (and a series of other state reports that the Prison Policy Initiative developed with state partners) are uniquely comprehensive and up-to-date. The series includes two previous reports on Maryland (published in 2015, in collaboration with the Justice Policy Institute) and New York (published in 2020, in collaboration with VOCAL-NY), and our newest reports on New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Colorado, Virginia, Washington, and Nevada.

    While these reports are the first to use redistricting data to provide detailed, local-level data on where incarcerated people come from statewide, other organizations have previously published reports that focused on individual cities or that provided data across fewer types of geographic areas. For example, the Justice Mapping Center had a project that showed residence data for people admitted to or released from state prisons in a given year for almost two dozen states. That project made those states’ annual admission and release data available at the zip code and census tract levels, most recently mapping 2008-2010 data. Separately, it also mapped the residences of people admitted to state prisons from New York City down to the block level using 2009 data.

    Another resource (particularly helpful for states that are not included in our series of reports) is Vera Institute for Justice’s Incarceration Trends project, which maps prison incarceration rates for 40 states at the county level, based on county of commitment (meaning where individuals were convicted and committed to serve a sentence, which is often but not necessarily where they lived).  ↩

  2. Imprisonment rates per 100,000 are a useful tool for comparison between different geographic regions with varying population sizes. For example, using a rate per 100,000 allows us to compare the frequency of imprisonment in Los Angeles County - California’s most populous county with over 10 million residents - to the frequency of imprisonment in San Diego County, which is home to just over 3 million residents, or to Shasta County with less than 200,000 residents.  ↩

  3. American Indian and Alaska Native areas (AIANAs) are geographies defined by the Census Bureau and across the country, these areas include reservations and trust lands, tribal jurisdiction statistical areas, Alaska Native Regional Corporations, Alaska Native village statistical areas, and tribal designated statistical areas. In California, there are American Indian reservations and trust lands.  ↩

  4. As explained in the methodology, this report’s imprisonment rate is based on the number of people in state prison who were reallocated to individual communities as part of the state’s law ending prison gerrymandering. This number is necessary for making apples-to-apples comparisons of incarceration between specific communities and the state as a whole. For the purposes of comparing incarceration in California with that of other states, other more common metrics would be more useful. For these other uses, we would recommend using other numbers for the statewide incarceration rate, likely either the 247 per 100,000 published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in Prisoners in 2020 for the number of people in state prison per 100,000 residents, or our more holistic number of 549 per 100,000 residents used in States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2021 that includes people in state prisons, federal prisons, local jails, youth confinement, and all other forms of incarceration.  ↩

  5. The imprisonment rate in Shasta County is more than twice that of the state of California, with 666 people in state prison per 100,000 county residents. Tehama County’s imprisonment rate is 556 per 100,000, Yuba County’s imprisonment rate is 510 per 100,000, Siskiyou and Lake County’s imprisonment rates are 480 per 100,000, and Del Norte’s imprisonment rate is slightly less, 473 people in state prison per 100,000 county residents.  ↩

  6. Importantly, this imprisonment rate is exclusively counting people from Los Angeles County in state prison. We already know that Los Angeles County is home to the largest jail system in the United States: in 2019, there were 17,385 people in jail in Los Angeles County (more than double the population of the second largest jail system, in Harris County, Texas).  ↩

  7. For the purpose of this report, we are using the terminology “Native American” to refer most broadly to all Native and indigenous people of the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau collects demographic data about American Indian and Alaska Native people separately from Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and we know that many Native and indigenous people identify with specific terms such as Native American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, indigenous, and Native. Our goal is to be as inclusive and accurate as possible without knowing the individual identities of the people who are represented by this incarceration data, which resulted in our use of “Native American.”  ↩

  8. In California, 1,114 Native American people were in state prison in 2020, while the statewide population of Native American people was 631,016. There were 18,819 white people in California state prisons in 2020, and a total statewide population of 16,296,122 white people.  ↩

  9. As discussed throughout the report, the residence data used here is only for people in state prisons. Undoubtedly, many Native American people are incarcerated in jails and federal prisons as well and not all Native American people in California state prisons lived on reservation or tribal land prior to their incarceration, so the imprisonment rates discussed here are likely a significant undercount of the true impact of the criminal legal system on people living on reservations and Native American people across California.  ↩

  10. Of note, a 2021 report from the Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County (NLSLA) found that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s policing practices in the Antelope Valley — which includes the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale (which has an imprisonment rate of 552 per 100,000) — disproportionately targeted communities of color. The study also found significant socioeconomic disparities between white residents and residents of color in the region, which inevitably exacerbates “the collateral financial consequences of police contact” along racial and ethnic lines.  ↩

  11. The city’s police department was disbanded in 2000, but since then, the city of Compton has had a contract with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for policing throughout the city.  ↩

  12. For the neighborhood-level analysis of the city of Los Angeles, we utilized the Mapping L.A. dataset from the Los Angeles Times. Unlike the other geographic data used for this report that come from local and state governments, this resource is maintained by the Los Angeles Times and provides maps and information and demographics across all of Los Angeles County by neighborhood. Readers familiar with Los Angeles neighborhoods may find that this resource does not perfectly align with neighborhood boundaries from other sources, but because the Los Angeles Times provides demographic data as well as the accessible neighborhood maps, this was the best source for this particular project.  ↩

  13. Gina Clayton, Endria Richardson, Lily Mandlin, and Brittany Farr, PhD. “Because She’s Powerful: The Political Isolation and Resistance of Women with Incarcerated Loved Ones.” Los Angeles and Oakland, CA: Essie Justice Group, 2018.  ↩

  14. These various correlative findings are once again in line with previous research on health disparities across communities, which have been linked to neighborhood factors such as income inequality, exposure to violence, and environmental hazards that disproportionately affect communities of color. Public health experts consider community-level factors such as these — including incarceration — “social determinants of health.” To counteract these problems, they suggest taking a broad approach, addressing the “upstream” economic and social disparities through policy reforms, as well as by increasing access to services and supports, such as improving access to clinical health care.  ↩

  15. We also know that people who have been incarcerated have a shorter life expectancy than people who have not.  ↩

  16. There are many additional studies linking incarceration rates and high community rates of STIs, including gonorrhea and chlamydia in North Carolina.  ↩

  17. Asthma prevalence has been used as a tool to measure population health in both sociological and public health research because it is easily correlated with environmental factors, like air quality and triggers (i.e., second hand smoke, mold, dust, cockroaches, dust mites), access to appropriate healthcare, and healthcare literacy. See the American Lung Association’s Public Policy Position for a literature review of the relevant public health research.  ↩

  18. Again, this finding is consistent with previous research on the relationship between education and imprisonment rates. We previously reported that the high school educations of over half of all formerly incarcerated people were cut short. This is in line with earlier studies showing that people in prison have markedly lower educational attainment, literacy, and numeracy than the general public, and are more likely to have learning disabilities. We also know there are relationships between parental incarceration and educational performance.  ↩

  19. The California law required the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to share the deidentified last known addresses of people in state prisons on Census Day 2020, but not any information on their gender or sex.  ↩

  20. State-based advocates, including Essie Justice Group, have found that data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is not always reliable or accurate, but we have no reason to believe that the home address data is inaccurate. In future research and advocacy, we encourage people using this data to incorporate the lived experiences of those who are directly impacted by incarceration and decades of community divestment.  ↩

  21. This list of groups of people who could not be counted at home is yet another set of reasons why the U.S. Census Bureau is the ideal agency to end prison gerrymandering: they are the only party with the ability to provide a complete solution and they can do this work far more efficiently than the states can.  ↩

See the footnotes

   

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the Redistricting Data Hub, particularly Peter Horton, for providing valuable technical expertise and the key data in the appendix tables. Redistricting Data Hub’s assistance processing the redistricting data and connecting us with other demographic data enabled us to produce and distribute these reports faster and more affordably than would otherwise have been possible.

Essie Justice Group thanks the Essie Sisterhood (members) — a loving and powerful community of women with incarcerated loved ones — for their leadership, advocacy, ancestral knowledge, and insights from their lived experiences that uniquely positions Essie to process and connect data to the widespread harms of incarceration.

   

About the authors

Emily Widra is a Senior Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative and is the co-author of States of Incarceration: The Global Context 2021. She is the organization’s expert on health and safety issues behind bars, including the coronavirus in prisons. Her previous research also includes analyses of mortality in prisons and the combined impact of HIV and incarceration on Black men and women.

Felicia Gomez is the Senior Policy Associate at Essie Justice Group, where she advances transformative policy and trains Essie’s members in legislative advocacy skills in order to shrink the carceral state, bring our loved ones home, and build the world we want to see. Prior to joining Essie Justice Group, she served as the Policy Analyst at the California Immigrant Policy Center where she advanced state and local policy at the intersection of the immigration and criminal-legal systems.

   

About the organizations

The non-profit, non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative produces cutting-edge research that exposes the broader harm of mass criminalization and sparks advocacy campaigns that create a more just society. In 2002, the organization launched the national movement against prison gerrymandering with the publication of Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in New York. This report demonstrated how using Census Bureau counts of incarcerated people as residents of the prison location dilutes the votes of state residents who do not live next to prisons, in violation of the state constitutional definition of residence. Since then, California is one of over a dozen states that have used Prison Policy Initiative’s research to end prison gerrymandering.

Essie Justice Group is the country’s leading organization of women with incarcerated loved ones taking on the rampant injustices created by mass incarceration. To do this, Essie Justice Group organizes women with incarcerated loved ones through their award-winning Healing to Advocacy Program, bringing women together to heal, build collective power, and drive social change through local, statewide, and national policy and advocacy work. In 2018, the organization published Because She’s Powerful: The Political Isolation and Resistance of Women with Incarcerated Loved Ones, a groundbreaking report identifying the racial and gender injustices of mass incarceration. Essie is also the central architect of the Movement for Black Lives’ BREATHE Act, a landmark piece of legislation that provides a comprehensive framework for expansive community resourcing outside of carceral systems.



Stay Informed


Get the latest updates:



Tweet this page Donate Now hiring:
Development and Communications Associate


Events

Not near you?
Invite us to your city, college or organization.