One of the most important criminal legal system disparities in Nevada has long been difficult to decipher: Which communities throughout the state do incarcerated people come from? Anyone who lives in or works within heavily policed and incarcerated communities intuitively recognizes 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
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 Nevada. Nevada is one of over a dozen states that have ended prison gerrymandering, and now counts incarcerated people where they legally reside — at their home address — rather than in the remote location of their prison cell. This type of reform, as we often discuss, is crucial for ending the siphoning of political power from disproportionately Black and Native American/American Indian communities to pad the mostly rural, predominantly white regions where prisons are located. When reforms like Nevada’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 would otherwise be impossible to access.
Redistricting data reveals that in Nevada, while incarcerated people come from all over the state, the largest number of imprisoned people are from some of the state’s largest cities, including Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, and Reno. Surprisingly, a handful of less populous and more rural counties — like Nye, White Pine, and Pershing — and small cities, including Ely, Yerrington, Boulder City, and Elko, also have high imprisonment rates,3 suggesting that people all over Nevada are affected by the state’s reliance on mass incarceration.
In addition to helping policymakers 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 problems related to poverty, employment, education, and health. Researchers, scholars, advocates, and politicians can use the data in this report to advocate for bringing more resources to their communities.
Our analysis of the state’s adjusted redistricting data shows both that incarcerated people come from every portion of the state and that some communities bear the heaviest burden from mass incarceration. The state reallocated about two-thirds of the state prison population4 to addresses outside of the facility and the distribution of those people serve as the basis of this report’s analysis.
In order to make apples-to-apples comparisons of the prevalence of incarceration between counties, cities and other communities of different sizes, this report uses imprisonment rates expressed as a number of people in prison per 100,000 residents. For the purposes of this analysis looking only at the numbers of people who were successfully reallocated to specific non-prison addresses in the state, Nevada has an imprisonment rate of 252 per 100,000 residents.5
Incarcerated people in Nevada come from almost every corner of the state: every county but the state’s smallest county is missing at least a portion of its population to imprisonment.6 The state’s most populous county with over 2.2 million residents — Clark County (Las Vegas Metropolitan Area) — has the most residents imprisoned (5,957) of all Nevada counties and an imprisonment rate of 263 per 100,000 residents. Washoe County (Reno) has 1,191 of the total county population of over 486,000 people imprisoned, with an imprisonment rate of 244 per 100,000.
On the opposite side, less populated counties, like Nye and White Pine, have the highest imprisonment rates at over 300 per 100,000. Nye County has a total population of just over 51,000 county residents, and has 189 people imprisoned; White Pine County has an even smaller county population of 9,000 residents with 31 residents imprisoned. Although these less populous counties are missing fewer people to incarceration, Nye and White Pine counties — along with less populous counties like Pershing and Churchill — are missing a relatively large portion of their population due to incarceration in state prisons. High imprisonment rates in these less populous counties demonstrates that incarceration is not a problem unique to big cities.
Las Vegas — the state’s most populous city — incarcerates the most people in the state: 2,124 Las Vegas residents are in Nevada state prisons. In terms of imprisonment rates, however, only one Nevada city has a higher imprisonment rate than Las Vegas’ rate of 330 per 100,000: Ely. The city of Ely has 19 residents in state prison, but because the city population is relatively small (less than 4,000), the proportion of people incarcerated is high: the city imprisonment rate is 482 per 100,000. Other Nevada cities with imprisonment rates greater than 300 per 100,000 include two of the state’s most populous cities: Reno (316 per 100,000) and North Las Vegas (313 per 100,000).
In contrast, the city of Henderson — the state’s second most populous city — has a relatively low imprisonment rate of 120 per 100,000. Notably, 8% of Henderson residents live in poverty, while statewide the poverty rate is 12.5%, and in Las Vegas the poverty rate is even higher at about 15%. Henderson’s population is predominantly white (72%), while Las Vegas is less white (58.5%). Those familiar with racial and ethnic disparities within the criminal legal system may not find the lower imprisonment rate in Henderson versus other municipalities surprising, as data has consistently demonstrated that poor people and people of color are disproportionately impacted by carceral policies across the nation.
Nationally, we know that Native American and American Indian people are overrepresented in state prison systems. In Nevada, Native people were 1.8% of the state prison population in 2020, but only 1.4% of the statewide population. 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.7 (For technical reasons, it can be challenging to reallocate people to rural and reservation addresses, so the data here likely understates the import of incarceration on the rural and reservation land). People living in the South Fork Reservation, Ely Reservation, Carson Colony, and the Battle Mountain Reservation experience imprisonment rates ranging from 1,389 per 100,000 to 2,817 per 100,000, all of which are more than four times the imprisonment rate of Las Vegas. The disparities in these communities are even more stark when you compare the state as a whole. For example, residents of Carson Colony are imprisoned at a rate that is a whopping six-times higher than the state average.
Although the number of residents of reservations is small, the proportion of the population that is imprisoned is relatively high compared to other geographic areas of the state. Across reservation and trust land in Nevada as a whole, the imprisonment rate is 337 per 100,000, which is still higher than the imprisonment rate of every city in Nevada except Ely,8 and significantly higher than the state average.
Racial and ethnic disparities permeate all levels of the criminal legal system, and we can see evidence that these disparities in policing contribute to the overrepresentation of Native people in Nevada prisons. For example, in the predominantly rural county of Pershing, the small city of Lovelock (total population of less than 2,000 people) has a population that is less than 3% Native American, but Native Americans make up 18% of arrests by the Lovelock Police Department. In the slightly more populous city of Fallon, the population is less than 2% Native American, but Native Americans make up more than 17% of arrests by the Fallon Police Department.
Within cities, incarceration tends to be concentrated in a relatively small number of geographic areas and communities, and this appears to be true in the City of Las Vegas and City of North Las Vegas.
The City of North Las Vegas stretches across the northern part of the Las Vegas Valley and shares its eastern and southern borders with the City of Las Vegas. The census tracts with the highest imprisonment rates in both cities are clustered along the southern boundary of North Las Vegas, in and around two historically Black neighborhoods: the Historic Westside in Las Vegas and Windsor Park in North Las Vegas. The fact that the highest rates of imprisonment are concentrated in these areas is no surprise, given that research has shown that policing tends to be concentrated in communities composed predominantly of people of color, which results in people living in these communities experiencing disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates. 45% of the arrests made by the North Las Vegas Police Department are of Black people, while the citywide population is only 22% Black.
Neighborhood differences in imprisonment rates are particularly glaring when examining Las Vegas City Council Ward 5, which has an imprisonment rate of 685 per 100,000 residents, more than double the citywide imprisonment rate (330 per 100,000 residents).9 The disparities become even more stark when measured against other wards within Las Vegas. Ward 6 has the lowest imprisonment rate in the city, with 123 per 100,000 residents behind bars. This means residents of Ward 5 are nearly six-times as likely to be in prison than residents of Ward 6, just a few blocks away.
The patterns of over-policing communities of color remain clear when looking at the city of Las Vegas. For example, in 2020, Black people in Las Vegas were 2.6 times more likely to be arrested for low level, non-violent offenses than white people. Las Vegas is just over 12% Black, but Black people make up 36% of arrests by Las Vegas Metro police and are 2.6 times more likely to be arrested for low level, non-violent offenses than white people. The ward with the highest imprisonment rate in the city — Ward 5 — is 22% Black.
In addition to racial disparities, we know that poor people, families, and communities are disproportionately impacted by the criminal legal system, and this appears to be part of the incarceration pattern in Las Vegas. Ward 3 and Ward 5, with the highest imprisonment rates, are also the wards with the highest poverty rates in the city: 30% of Ward 3 and 25% of Ward 5 live in poverty, compared to the citywide poverty rate of 16% (for race and poverty data by ward, see Table 1).
Meanwhile, consistent with national trends, people in communities that are predominately white and wealthy are far less likely to be imprisoned than those in communities of color. In Ward 2, where 61% of the population is white (the citywide population is 59% white), the imprisonment rate is five times lower than in Ward 5. In Ward 6, where 58% of the population is white, the imprisonment rate is almost six times lower than in Ward 5.
|Las Vegas City Council Wards||Imprisonment rate per 100,000 ward residents||Percent of ward population that is non-Hispanic White||Percent of ward population that is Black||Percent of ward population that is Native American/American Indian||Percent living below poverty line|
While all communities are missing some of their members to prisons and jails, in places where large numbers of adults — parents, workers, voters — are imprisoned, incarceration has a broader community impact. The large number of adults drained from a relatively small number of geographical areas seriously impacts the health and stability of the families and communities left behind.10
Across the country, researchers have connected high local incarceration rates with a host of negative outcomes for the people who live there. In a Prison Policy Initiative analysis of where incarcerated people in Maryland are from, 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.
Across the country, research reveals the numerous correlations11 between imprisonment and other consequences of underinvestment in community wellbeing:
Incarceration rates correlate with a variety of barriers and negative outcomes. The data herein builds on this work by helping identify which specific neighborhoods throughout Nevada are systematically disadvantaged and left behind. Nevada 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.
These 14 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 neighborhood safety and mental health response teams that work independently from police departments. The data can also help guide reentry services (which are typically provided by nonprofit community organizations) to areas of Nevada 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 or 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. 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.
Because place of origin correlates with so many other metrics of wellbeing, we can and should prioritize the communities most impacted by carceral policies for support and resources beyond basic traditional interventions to prevent criminal legal system contact. In communities where a state, regional, or local government has heavily invested in policing and incarceration (i.e. the high-incarceration communities we find in our analysis), resources would be better put toward reducing poverty and improving local health, education, and employment opportunities.
For example, large numbers of children in high incarceration areas may grow up with the trauma and lost resources that accompany a parent who is incarcerated and data suggests that these children have a statistically higher likelihood of experiencing incarceration themselves. 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 to disrupt cycles of familial incarceration.
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.
This report capitalizes on the unique opportunity presented by Nevada’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, legislative districts, and cities, and for Native land reservations across the state.
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, elementary 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 the spring and summer of 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.
Nevada’s law ending prison gerrymandering required the Department of Corrections 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:
Our analysis in this report documents the home addresses of 7,826 people in state prisons. However, the state’s total prison population was approximately 12,214 on Census day, and about 11,354 of those people had last known addresses in Nevada. The number of reallocated people is different from the total population of Nevada residents in prison 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.17
From the perspective of improving democracy in Nevada, the state’s reallocation efforts were relatively successful in reducing both the unearned enhancement of political representation in prison-hosting areas and reduced 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 7,826 people when they may be aware that the state prison system had more than 12,000 people on Census day:
Similarly, this report doesn’t reflect the other groups of people incarcerated from particular communities who are not reflected in these data,18 because they were:
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 will not sum precisely to the total 7,826 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.
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 California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington.
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). ↩
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 Nevada, there are American Indian reservations and trust lands. ↩
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 Clark County — Nevada’s most populous county with over 2 million residents — to the frequency of imprisonment in the sixteen less populated counties across the state. ↩
As we discuss in the methodology, not everyone in state prison could be reallocated to a home address — for example people incarcerated in Nevada who are residents of other states — and there were also addresses on file that were not, for a variety of reasons, able to be reallocated back to specific places in Nevada. ↩
This report’s statewide imprisonment rate (252 per 100,000) 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 imprisonment between specific communities and the state as a whole. For the purposes of comparing incarceration in Nevada 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 361 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 713 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. ↩
Nevada’s least populous county — Esmeralda County with less than 800 residents — had no county residents imprisoned and successfully reallocated back to that county during the 2020 redistricting cycle. This is likely to be a temporary anomaly, however, as the Department of Corrections reported that from July 2019 to July 2020, every single Nevada county sent people to state prison. ↩
Many Native people do not live on Native land, and, as discussed throughout the report, the residence data used here is only for people in state prisons. Undoubtedly, many Native people are imprisoned in jails and federal prisons as well, so the imprisonment rates discussed here are likely a significant undercount of the true impact of the criminal legal system on reservation land in Nevada. ↩
Of note, the Ely Shoshone Reservation is actually inside the city limits of the city of Ely and at the time of the 2020 Census, 5 of the 245 people who lived on the Reservation were imprisoned. ↩
While the Las Vegas wards are each home to more than 100,000 residents and therefore much larger than neighborhoods, imprisonment data by ward shows a more local view of incarceration than some of the larger statewide geographies like counties or cities. It is possible that parts of these neighborhoods can be split between wards. For more information on the general neighborhood composition of Las Vegas’s wards see the city’s interactive map. ↩
These impacts of incarceration on families and communities include higher rates of disease and infant mortality, housing instability, and financial burdens related to having an incarcerated loved one. For more detailed information on how incarceration impacts families and communities, see On life support: Public health in the age of mass incarceration from the Vera Institute of Justice. ↩
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. ↩
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. ↩
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. ↩
NEV. A.B. 450, 81st Reg. Sess. (2019) (enacted), available at https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/80th2019/Bill/6863/Text. ↩
Of note, 80% of land in Nevada is owned by the federal government. Because of the significant portion of Nevada land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, National Park Service, and the Department of Defense, many people do not live in rural Nevada. ↩
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. ↩
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.
We would also like to thank Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui for carrying AB450 and affording Silver State Voices the opportunity to be a co-sponsor of the legislation. We would also like to especially thank Faith Organizing Alliance, The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, Battle Born Progress, and One APIANevada for providing testimony in favor of this measure. Lastly, we would like to thank all the Nevadans Count coalition members, Nevada State Demographer, Legislative Council Bureau, and Governor Steve Sisolak and his team, for helping ensure AB450 was accurately implemented during the 33rd Special Session.
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, Nevada is one of over a dozen states that have used Prison Policy Initiative’s research to end prison gerrymandering.
Silver State Voices (a fiscally sponsored project of NEO Philanthropy, Inc.) was founded as a civic engagement coordination hub among progressive 501(c)3 organizations that work in Nevada, working to address these overwhelming disparities. Currently, there are 19 partners whose work spans Nevada’s most populous counties, Clark and Washoe County. Silver State Voices and the 19 partners’ collaborative efforts include, but are not limited to, traditional civic engagement programs, like voter registration, rights restoration, get out the vote (GOTV), census and redistricting, election protection, voting rights advocacy, voter education, capacity building, and data and tools support. Silver State Voices believes that democracy works best and its outcomes are most just when the voices of all Nevadans are heard.
The ACLU of Nevada was formed in 1966 and is the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, the nation’s largest civil liberties and civil rights organization with more than 1.5 million members nationwide. ACLU of Nevada works to defend and advance the civil liberties and civil rights of all Nevadans via an integrated advocacy model that uses public engagement, public policy, and strategic litigation to seek justice.