Inside U.S. Prisons — From Above

A few years ago, the great Niran Babalola and I dreamed up a news app that included all inmates and prison units in Texas. We built it because the state’s database was perpetually down, and we thought the public — victims, prosecutors and inmate families, especially — should have a reliable view inside their state’s prison system. One of my favorite features was a Google satellite image of each prison unit.

Here’s what Texas’ Death Row looks like from the sky, for example:

Today I discovered a nifty new (to me) site that has similar views of most United States prisons:

The United States is the prison capital of the world. This is not news to most people. When discussing the idea of mass incarceration, we often trot out numbers and dates and charts to explain the growth of imprisonment as both a historical phenomenon and a present-day reality.

But what does the geography of incarceration in the US actually look like? Prison Map is my attempt to answer that question.

Check it out:

(via Alan Palazzolo @zzolo)

The Politics of Redistricting

A cross-post from my work blog:

As state Sen. Kel Seliger said last week, the decennial process of drawing the boundaries around legislative districts is inherently political, a fact that’s apparent by looking at the maps themselves.

Take the case of state Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, who followed his 2010 election as a Democrat last year by switching to the GOP, which now has the largest majority for either party since 1983.

In the statewide map proposed by the House’s redistricting chair, Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, Peña’s district is redrawn to boost his chances for re-election as a Republican in Democrat-friendly Hidalgo County. First, this map shows current districts in the Rio Grande Valley. Peña is the lone Republican.

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Here’s the proposed change. Notice the new district drops the northern, rural and sparsely populated portions of Hidalgo County, and the Sullivan City area in the far southwest corner along the border with Starr County and Mexico.

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This thematic map shows voting tabulation districts — the U.S. Census Bureau's version of a precinct — in Hidalgo County, and how they voted in the 2010 governor's race. Darker shades represent stronger supoort for the Republican in the governor's race. See how Peña's proposed district now captures the more Republican-leaning areas.

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The two voting districts in the far northwest portion of the county lean Republican, but they contain few voters. This map shows the raw vote totals for both parties during the 2010 governor’s race. Look at the GOP vote map again in the context of Peña’s current and proposed districts. You’ll see he traded high raw vote areas that lean Democratic in favor of those that lean Republican:

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His district is also now changed demographically. The current district is 94 percent Hispanic. The proposed boundaries would lower that to 76 percent. Hidalgo County as a whole is 90 percent Hispanic, according to the census count.

Will it work, assuming these boundaries don’t change? We’ll see. In the end, it’s a numbers game. Peña’s current district voted 76 percent for Bill White, the Democrat who lost the governor’s race against Gov. Rick Perry. The governor won the proposed district with 50.1 percent of the vote.

Go here to download all the data used to make these maps. Let us know if you have feedback or ideas for other data-related content, and be sure to follow @TribData on Twitter for updates.

Once, Twice, Three Times a Governor

A cross post from my work blog:

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Most people know that Gov. Rick Perry, inaugurated to a third full term Tuesday, has served longer than any other chief executive in Texas history.

What’s remarkable, though, is just how much longer than the state’s previous governors — even those who’ve served during the modern era, according to historical data maintained by the Legislative Research Library.

This bar chart illustrates that longevity, which now spans more than a decade in office. No previous governor has served more than eight years, not even since the early 1970s, when the late Dolph Briscoe became the first governor under a new four-year gubernatorial term.

Perry has served four years longer than his predecessor, George W. Bush, who left early to serve as president. And he’s served twice as long as 40 previous governors, including Ann Richards, Mark White and Bill Clements (who, in fairness, served two non-consecutive four-year terms). Since 1846, the average length of time in office for Texas governors is 3.5 years.

Assuming Perry doesn’t run for president, or leave office early, he will have served Texas longer than the late Franklin D. Roosevelt served as president. FDR’s tenure lasted just over 12 years.

Data: CSV