To Educate or To Incarcerate? by Yanbing Chen

COURSE: Geography 370: Introduction to Cartography

MEDIUM: Infographic, Map, Data Visualization

My map, “To Educate or To Incarcerate?”, presents a stark visual analysis contrasting education spending and incarceration rates across the United States. The map places the cost per college student against the backdrop of mass incarceration expenses, offering an intuitive comparison that reveals how much the U.S. government spends on inmates. It also contrasts K-12 education funding with state imprisonment rates, highlighting the potential for shifting public investment from penal systems to educational endeavors as a means to reduce incarceration rates. Through a blend of choropleth mapping, proportional symbols, and infographics, the map offers an intuitive understanding of all the relevant incarceration data. The vivid color scheme aims to draw attention to states that rank high in educational spending and low in incarceration, fostering a wider discussion on policy priorities.

As a cartographic storyteller, my passion extends beyond mere map-making; it involves uncovering and bringing to light the hidden narratives of social minority groups through spatial analysis and creative design, thereby provoking thought and awareness among the general public about these often overlooked stories.

“To Educate or To Incarcerate?” was inspired by a fantastic exhibition at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, which illuminated the issue of mass incarceration in the United States and its hidden impacts. I was deeply impressed by this exhibition and wanted to create a project to invoke reflection and action from a broader public, to understand the story, and to challenge readers to consider the societal implications of government financial priorities.

The entire work is divided into three main sections. First, the map serves as the visual focal point of the piece, contrasting in-state tuition with the cost per inmate to provide readers with an intuitive sense of the substantial expenditure on incarceration. Next, the infographics on the right side of the map offer more detailed data about incarceration rates to aid reader comprehension. Here, the central focus is slightly subdued by reducing the font brightness, thereby lowering their visual hierarchy. In the lower left corner, I attempt to prompt a step further by posing a question: could increasing public spending on K-12 education alleviate the high incarceration rates?

The choice of color, symbols, and layout is deliberate to evoke an emotional response, making the data not just understandable, but felt. The orange and blue color palette was chosen to create a visual dichotomy between education (warm, inviting) and incarceration (cool, isolating), which reflects the underlying thematic tension. In creating this map, I utilized a range of techniques, including GIS analysis for the spatial data, graphic design to create an engaging aesthetic, and data visualization best practices to ensure clarity.