Peter Wagner, Executive Director
I need your help. For more than a decade, the Prison Policy Initiative has been at the forefront of the movement to expose how mass incarceration undermines our national welfare. With a lot of hard work and generous support from a small network of individual donors, we've won major civil rights victories in local governments, state legislatures and even the Supreme Court. But our long-term viability depends on people like you investing in our work.

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—Peter
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by Peter Wagner, October 27, 2003

There are 86 unmarried men for every 100 unmarried women in the United States. The ratio will vary between neighborhoods, cities, regions and states from a variety of influences on the statistic. Some are the reflections of women’s longevity, different cultural ideas about marriage, and some are the result of social and economic demographics like the concentration of young people.

The disparity between states is somewhat small, ranging from Alabama and Rhode Island at 79 unmarried men to 100 unmarried women, to Alaska at 114 unmarried men per 100 unmarried women. (Alaska is a very small state that has a lot of industries that rely on imported male workers. The next state is Nevada at 103 unmarried men per 100 unmarried women.)

The county disparity is huge, ranging from 53.8 to 362 unmarried men per 100 unmarried women. The Census collects marital status data because it helps communities plan for social services and future growth. While relatively useful for some purposes on the state level, this data is more difficult to use on the county or town level because the Census includes “special populations” of prisoners and soldiers — which tend to be male — in with the local community rather than at their actual homes.

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by Peter Wagner, October 20, 2003

Much of the research on this website uses county-of-conviction as a proxy for a prisoner’s home residence because this data is more frequently available. Although most Departments of Correction gather residence data, they frequently only publish county-of-conviction data.

The general equivalency of the county of conviction and residence datasets can be proven in North Carolina, where the Department of Corrections publishes both sets of information. Analysis shows that the two figures are substantially the same, other than a small number (5%) of prisoners with an out-of-state residence.

Although correcting the Census dataset for redistricting purposes will require the precise address information in the residence files, county-of-conviction data is sufficient to show the necessity of abandoning the Census’s usual residence rule: In most states, prisoners are convicted in a small number of urban counties and incarcerated — where the Census currently counts them — in other counties.


by Peter Wagner, October 13, 2003

Unfortunately, counting disenfranchised residents for purposes of mis-representation in the legislature is nothing new.

At the founding of the United States, the white population in the South was much smaller than that in the North. In a huge compromise, the original U.S. Constitution allowed the Southern states to count their Black slaves as 3/5ths of a white person. The slaves couldn’t vote, so the slaveowners got to “represent” this captive population in Congress and the Electoral College.

The result? Thanks to its added population, for 32 of the first 36 years of the country, the President was a slave-holder from the otherwise small state of Virginia. Artificially boosting the political power of the South created a national stalemate that prevented the creation of a democratic solution to the slavery problem. What might have been resolved peacefully in the 1790s became the Civil War in the 1860s.

Today, a similar democratic and economic impasse presents itself in the debate over crime control policy. As the economy constricts and state budgets contract, it is absolutely essential that our political structure be responsive to changing needs of the people.

Would a democratically constituted legislature support expensive prisons over proven-effective drug treatment? Counting our population at their true residences and apportioning political power accordingly would be a great way to find out.


by Peter Wagner, October 6, 2003

It comes as no surprise that prisoners resemble the communities from which they come, and that prison staff resemble the communities that host the prisons. But what may be a surprise is just how different these two groups are.

According to our recent study, more than half of all prisoners are Black, but only 20% of the prison jobs are held by Black staff. Only 64 prisons in the country have been able to hire Black staff in proportion to the number of Black prisoners; and not a single one of these prisons is located outside the South or the urban cities of the North.

Despite a concerted effort by prison administrators to increase staff diversity, prison staff remain overwhelming white because the prisons themselves are increasingly being built in rural areas rather than in the urban and predominantly minority areas from which most prisoners originate.

This racial disparity between prisoners and staff is another way of illustrating that prisoners tend to come from very different communities than the prisons are physically located in. Counting prisoners in their true communities would give us a more accurate picture of the size and needs of all our communities.

See: Peter Wagner and Rose Heyer, AlterNet, September 25, 2003.

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