Imprisonment and Disenfranchisement of Disconnected Low-Income Men. High Imprisonment Rates Take a Toll on Communities


Figure 6. Incarceration Costs by Zip Code, Houston, 2008

 Incarceration Costs by Zip Code, Houston, 2008

Source: Justice Mapping Center.

Urban communities face both civic costs and significant economic costs because of their members’ felony disenfran-chisement. The prison population comes disproportionately from poorer neighborhoods;11 as a result, some poor neigh-borhoods have what researchers call “million-dollar blocks,” referring to the amount of money the government spends annually incarcerating individuals. Moreover, the families in these communities lose the economic and social support of those who have been incarcerated.12

The Justice Mapping Center used prisoners’ pre-incarceration residential information to create a visual representation of these million-dollar blocks in several metropolitan areas. Figures 6 and 7 show Houston and New York City as examples of two cities in different regions of the country. In both, Hispanics are the largest share of low-income men; in Houston, they are the majority. The maps display state costs to send their residents to prison in 2008 by zip code. The most expensive zip codes are concen-trated in certain sections of each city. In almost all these neighborhoods, about half the households have annual in-comes less than $25,000 and almost all households are nonwhite or Hispanic. The cost of imprisonment and asso-ciated expenditures in these areas can be as high as $28.6 million, according to the Justice Mapping Center.

Figure 7. Incarceration Costs by Zip Code, New York City, 2008

 Incarceration Costs by Zip Code, New York City, 2008

Source: Justice Mapping Center.

The costs detailed above, though notable, skim the sur-face of the true cost of imprisonment. Not included in these estimates are the opportunity costs in lost wages or human capital development, the future economic burden from a felony record, and the economic echo effect on the prison-er’s children, including the more difficult to quantify mental and societal burdens placed on families and communities.


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