State Scatterplots: Why is Wisconsin Still the Worst for Black Imprisonment?

Black & White Prison Admission Rates NCRP
Black & White Prison Admission Rates NCRP

Wisconsin has stayed at the top of the pile in Black incarceration even though its Black incarceration rate has been declining. How can this be? The answer is that all the other states have been declining faster. By putting a scatter plot of state imprisonment rates on consistent axes, I’ve been able to produce a really cool animation effect.  The data source is the\ National Corrections Reporting Program public “in custody” file. Rates are calculation on entire population (all ages). States voluntarily participate in this data collection program and appear and disappear from the plot depending on whether they reported for the appropriate year. States are also eliminated if more than 10% of their inmates are recorded as having unknown race. You’ll see if watch long enough that the relative positions of most states stay the same, but the whole distribution starts  moving downward (lower Black incarceration rates) and to the left (lower White incarceration rates) in the last few years. You may download both these images and explanatory material in PDF format  using this link.

This is my first gif! Fascinating chart and fun to make. UPDATE: I found a better GIF-maker, a little easy-to-use program called GIMP.

And here is the trend in the Black/White disparity, by the White rate. You will notice that Wisconsin does not always have the highest disparity ratio, sometimes New Jersey or Minnesota is a little higher. The disparity is affected by the White rate as well as the Black rate. Note that Oklahoma has very high imprisonment rates for both Blacks and Whites, but a low disparity ratio.

Black/White disparity in state imprisonment rates. NCRP.
Black/White disparity in state imprisonment rates. NCRP.

You may download both these images and explanatory material in PDF format  using this link. I’m working on cleaning that data from the National Prison Statistics series that will include most of the 50 states and have less missing information. More to come!


  1. I live in Wisconsin and I can believe this. It is unfortunate that so many people are being put in prison. I am for lesser sentences for non violent crimes that would allow some of these people to not be in prison so long. Not only is it hard on these people lives, it also affects the tax payers that have to pay for these people to be in prison, it costs a lot of money to keep inmates in prison.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.