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America’s Prison System, Shown From The Sky

There are currently more than 2 million people in jails in the United States. Add the people on parole, and more than 7 million people (3% of the entire population) are under the supervision of the correctional system. This makes the United States the most incarcerated country on the planet, with 743 out of every 100,000 of our citizens behind bars.

These large numbers can be abstract. But just think about the infrastructure that must be in place to house and feed the city’s worth of people in jail. That’s what NYU graduate student Josh Begley did with his site Prison Map.

The site pulls in the Google Maps image of about 700 of the country’s 4,916 prisons and displays them in a grid. There is no identifying information; each of the prisons could be anywhere. The result is an almost numbing visual litany of the architecture of incarceration.

You can begin to pick out common architectural elements–X-shaped buildings, trapezoid-ish layout, quaint rural settings–but scrolling down the page does something more poignant than just give you insights into prison architecture. In its infinite scroll of images, Prison Maps illuminates the massive amount of money and effort that it takes to be a country with so many people in prison.

MC