By Christian Henrichson, Jacob Kang Brown, and Oliver Hinds
The state of incarceration in America—2.2 million people behind bars—is such a massive problem that it can feel abstract and distant.
But it’s actually quite tangible, proximate, and solvable. And as Vera’s Incarceration Trends tool shows, it’s a problem that’s actually in all of our backyards—the place where the solutions also lie because it is city and county officials—such as police, prosecutors, and judges—who decide who and how to arrest, prosecute, and sentence. All people that are directly accountable to their local constituents.
To show how the tool can be used, let’s look at Broome County, NY, which lies in the state’s Southern Tier, bordering Pennsylvania, and west of the Catskill Mountains. The county is the birthplace of IBM and was a hub of defense industry during the Cold War. It’s also home to Binghamton University, a prominent state university that is now at the center of the region’s economic and cultural life in the wake of the declining industrial sector.
About 200,000 people live in Broome County. In 2015, 722 of the 50,000 people in the New York state prison system were sentenced from Broome County. 722 hardly seems like a lot when compared with the 22,301 people in the prison system who were sentenced from New York City. But a comparison by volume fails to capture the way that incarceration affects communities of different sizes—the right way to think about incarceration is using the rate per capita. The prison incarceration rate in Broome County is now 45 percent higher than in New York City (551 per 100,000 residents aged 15-64 in Broome, versus 380 per 100,000 residents of the same age in NYC).