Visualizing the Prison Boom: A Time-Lapse Map of Prison Construction in the U.S., 1811-2004

At 716 per 100,000 people (2013 figures), the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world.  The number of Americans behind bars is now well over two millions--around 25 percent of the world's prisoners.  This is a relatively new phenomenon: throughout the first three quarters of the twentieth century the country's incarceration rate remained relatively stable, at about 110 per 100,000 people. Things changed in the mid-1970s, when the rate began to climb, doubling in the 1980s and then again in the 1990s, before slowing down and leveling off in the first decade of the 21st century.  This unprecedented surge in imprisonment has been dubbed the "prison boom."

The mapmakers at MapStory, a non-profit online, open-source mapping platform, have given us another way to visualize this phenomenon.  The massive increase in the number of prisoners was accompanied by an equally massive number of new prisons built to house them: while the period 1811-1979 saw the construction of 711 prisons, 936 prisons were built between 1980 and 2004.  Using data compiled by Rose Heyer at the Prison Policy Initiative, MapStory created a time-lapse map ( showing prisons built in the U.S. between 1811 and 2004.  Users can play the animation starting in 1811 and watch the slow build-up of prisons between 1811 and 1979 (white circle dots on the map) and the acceleration in prison construction between 1980 and 2004 (black circle dots), as well as freeze the map on specific years and zoom in on specific states or regions.

Read more: resources:
Prisoners per Capita (
Fear of Crime (
Crime Victimization in the US: A Data-Driven Learning Guide (
Frederique Laubepin

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