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by Peter Moskos

September 29, 2009

A story of no story

The other night I had a minor but perhaps brilliant idea. What if there were a correlation between the number of prisons in a state and that state's incarceration rate? Perhaps the more prisons there are, the greater the political influences that play in a state, leading to more people locked up! Prison-Industrial-Complex shit I'm talking about!

Of course, bigger states would have more prisons, but that's the beauty of stats: they can take population into account and just compare the number of prisons with a state's incarceration, holding population constant.

So I found and put every state's incarceration rate into an SPSS file. Then I added the state's population. Finally I used wiki to get a decent number for the number prison institutions in each and every state.

Then a crunched the numbers and found... uh, there's no correlation. So I tortured the data a bit (maybe it only works for the highest and lowest levels of incarceration!). No dice. No brilliant idea. No publishable paper. Just a waste of a few hours that would have better been spent writing.

Oh well.


ChristMotForbud said...

I would imagine there are a number of variables, perhaps including the one you investigated.

In the video, "Clergy Speaks Out Against War on Drugs," one of the people interviewed says, "Part of the problem is our [elected officials] do not want the laws changed… they are getting funds by counting those prisoners as [district] residents."

I suspect that is not the case in every state, but I could be wrong. However, it's definitely a variable worth looking in to, if you have the time. ;-)

PCM said...

I don't have the time.

But what you say is true. Prisoners count in the census for the district of their prison, and not where they're from. So their vote and political power pass on to the men and women who guard them.

Mitch said...

You're taking the number of prisons as a proxy for political influence. But maybe there's a more direct measure of political influence? You could try to measure prison-related political contributions (from prison guard unions, etc.).

It seems tough to figure out the actual causal link, though; maybe all those things (number of prisons, political influence, incarceration rate) are caused by a state's culture.