1 in 3 Baltimoreans in prison comes from one of only 10 neighborhoods
WASHINGTON, D.C. June 27, 2022 – Today, the Justice Policy Institute and the Prison Policy Initiative released a new report, Where people come from: The geography of mass incarceration in Maryland, revealing that no city in Maryland is impacted by mass incarceration as much as Baltimore. It is home to 9 percent of the state’s residents, but 40 percent of people in its state prisons. Baltimore City has the highest incarceration rate in the state, with 1 in every 100 residents locked up in a state prison.
The worst impacts of mass incarceration are concentrated in specific neighborhoods that are already systematically under-resourced. For example, over one-third of the people from Baltimore in state prison come from just 10 of the city’s 55 neighborhoods. The report’s nine detailed tables — including neighborhood-specific data for Baltimore City and Montgomery County — serve as a foundation for advocates, organizers, policymakers, journalists, academics, and others to do their own analysis of how incarceration relates to other factors of community well-being.
Mass incarceration is not solely an issue for urban and suburban population centers along the I-95 corridor. In fact, the report shows that smaller, and traditionally under-resourced, Eastern Shore communities are also particularly hard hit by mass incarceration. The data show the counties with the highest state prison incarceration rates are Wicomico, Dorchester, and Somerset, all with incarceration rates greater than 500 people in state prison per 100,000 residents. In comparison, Montgomery County has the lowest prison incarceration rate, at 61 people in state prison per 100,000 residents – roughly 10 times lower than the highest counties.
“As a Baltimorean, I’m angered, but not surprised, that the data show what we know – the people we incarcerate come from underserved, systemically deprived neighborhoods. Sustained investments in the criminal legal system have charred a path through our communities. There have been no other areas of investment as sustained and impactful”, said Shekhinah Braveheart, JPI Advocacy Associate. “We must take a different approach to healing communities that have been left by the wayside. We can, and must, do better.”
The data and report are made possible by Maryland’s landmark 2010 law requiring that people in prison be counted as residents of their hometown, rather than of their prison cells, when state and local governments redistrict every ten years. Maryland was the first state in the nation to end the practice of “prison gerrymandering,” which gave disproportional political clout to districts that contain prisons at the expense of the rest of the state. Tables in the report provide residence information for people in Maryland state prisons at the time of the 2020 Census, offering the clearest look ever at which communities are most impacted by mass incarceration. They break down the number of people locked up by county, city, town, zip code, legislative district, census tract, and other areas.
“The nation’s 40-year failed experiment with mass incarceration harms each and every one of us. This analysis shows that while some communities are disproportionately impacted by this failed policy, nobody escapes the damage it causes,” said Emily Widra, Senior Research Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. “Our report is just the beginning. We’re making this data available so others can further examine how geographic incarceration trends correlate with other problems communities face.”
A previous analysis from the Prison Policy Initiative and Justice Policy Institute showed a strong correlation between high rates of incarceration in Maryland and high unemployment rates, long commute times, low household incomes, decreased life expectancy, and other markers of low community well-being.
The Justice Policy Institute will release a second piece of this research later this year examining the justice system’s impact on the most incarcerated communities in Baltimore against the backdrop of serious systemic failures in housing, economic development, education, healthcare, employment and other critical investment needs. This will also include an analysis examining the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on these neighborhoods.
The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is dedicated to reducing the use of incarceration and the justice system by promoting fair and effective policies.
The non-profit, non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative produces cutting edge research to expose the broader harm of mass criminalization, and then sparks advocacy campaigns to create a more just society.