The City of Angels is said to host the largest jail system on Earth with an annual cost of almost one billion dollars for its residents. The Million Dollar Hoods website hosts an interactive map designed to show the extremely unequal repartition of the cost of mass incarceration and how it affects Los Angeles.
Million Dollar Hoods: the cost of mass incarceration
For each neighborhood the map allows its users to see the cost of incarceration. The available data also includes the total number of days spent in jail and the number of arrests. Those elements are enriched with information related with the race and gender of the inmates, as well as the charges for which they were condemned. A filter allows for uses to select some areas depending on how much money they spent on mass incarceration.
This project can also give the opportunity to observe if and how populations are more affected by mass incarceration. On top of that it serves as an example of how misdemeanors and felonies are more harshly punished in some areas than in others.
Addressing the city
Million Dollar Hoods is an initiative led by Kelly Lytle Hernandez, a professor of History and African-American Studies. She worked in collaboration with many other scholars coming from a variety of fields. In September 2019 Professor Hernandez has become the recipient of the Mc Arthur Fellowship Award partly thanks to this work. The latter was motivated by her own experience as a local.
On its website, the Million Dollar Hoods project is presented as a tool for Los Angeles residents. This comes from the fact that the cost of mass incarceration depends on neighborhood limits. Therefore if you live in an area where a high portion of the population is in jail or detained while awaiting trial, you end up paying more in taxes.
Furthermore, different scales are available on the website. For neighborhoods and regions you only have the name of those areas, but for senate and assembly users can see the name of the politicians in charge.
Lastly, rankings are avaible for each neighborhood :
Professor Hernandez has explained that although incarceration records are public, they aren’t necessarily available. She only got access to the first set of data after over a year. In the meantime, she consequently resorted to other means to receive to collect information on mass incarceration. Those means includes testimonies, songs, pamphlets, news articles and other sources of information. Later data sets from Los Angeles Sherriff Department (LASD) and Los Angeles Police Department were also included in the analysis.
Going beyond race
Of the qualities of the map resides in the way it presents the collected data. Many reports and studies have showed people of color are disproportionally represented in American prisons. History and news also serve as a harsh reminder of this reality. However, the Million Dollar Hoods map doesn’t just say mass incarceration is solely related to race.
Only two layers are available on the website and they just show how much money has been spent on mass incarceration between 2012 and 2017. Other complementary data are presented in the form of graphics. This tends to present race as a factor, but not the only determining criteria for people in jails. Consequently the map can serve as a reflection to why some offenses seem to be more harshly punished than others. As a matter of fact, this is actually one of the observations Professor Hernandez has made herself. She explains that the majority of charges are either drug possession or DUIs. Because to her those two are public health issues, they should be addressed with public funding. By stating this, she provides not only an explanation on how public funds are spent, but also offers solutions to fight the evil at its roots.
- Ralph J. Bunche Center fro African American Studies
- Million Dollar Hoods
- « Why this ‘genius’ scholar is mapping out the world’s largest jail system« , by Sam Levin. The Guardian, Octobre 11th 2019.