*social justice, bar graph

US Prison Population by Offense (Disproportionate Incarceration Graph #4)

US Prison Population – by Offense (LINK)
courtesy of Connie Rivera (@Rivera_Con)

Type of Graph: bar graph

Source9 Charts and Maps that Will Make You Ashamed of America’s Prison System by Pamela Engel (Sept 19, 2014; Business Insider/Reuters)

Potential Math Content: bar graph, scale, ratios, proportional reasoning, horizontal bar graph

Potential Content Connections: incarceration, the US justice system, the War on Drugs, politics, race

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This graph is intended to be used in conjunction with the following activity (from Connie Rivera). (Word doc version here | Google doc version here)


Print one graph for each pair of students. Cut out the bar categories individually, remove the subtitle, and take out the circle graph. Save all the pieces.


  1. Give students just the strips of the category labels and ask pairs of students to put the categories in a column from most objectionable (top) to least objectionable (bottom).
  2. Pass out the title and bars of the graph. Let students decide which offense could go with each bar. Address the meaning of the word ‘prison’ found in the title (longer term and federal, see source). State that the top category is Drug offenses.
  3. Give pairs a blank piece of paper. “One missing piece is a circle graph. Sketch a circle graph using this same data to show two categories: 1. drug offenses, and 2. all other offenses combined.” Follow up by asking what the whole is (total prison population). Address misconceptions. If needed, ask students to cut out all the bars and tape them end to end to form a circle, and then create a circle graph. Ask for descriptions of the size of ‘drug offenses’ in relation to the whole; give the subtitle. Reveal the full original graph and allow students to shuffle their bar graph categories to match. Discuss points of surprise.
  4. Ask each pair to discuss and then write down as many comparison statements as they can. Allow additive and any other reasoning that comes out. Offer a few words/phrases as scaffolding to include statements using multiplicative reasoning. [double, triple, __ times as many as, __ times more than, __ times greater than, etc.]


This is the fourth and final graph in a series of slow reveal graphs Connie Rivera created for a unit called “Disproportionate Incarceration: Graphing, Proportional Reasoning, and Social Justice.” She used it with students in an adult education course. Read more about this series on the Special Collections page.

Click here to download this slide deck in its original PPT format (from Connie)



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