Iowa County Dissimilarities: Incarceration Rates

The county incarceration rate is the number of prison inmates of committed to prison by the county
court divided by the population of the county. It is customary to express the incarceration rates as
prison inmates per 100,000 residents and it is also common to combine genders and only compute one
rate. The average incarceration rate for females is 37 and that for males is 351 so a combined rate does
not represent either gender. In this report gender is taken into account for both prison commitments and
county population.

Data Sources
The Iowa Department of Corrections does a snapshot of all prison inmates on the last day of the fiscal.
I used a copy of the snapshot (purged of confidential information about the inmates) taken at the end of
FY 2107 to determine the number of female and male commitments by each county. I also obtained to
2016 census estimates by gender and race/ethnicity for Iowa counties from the Iowa Data Center to
determine the county populations by gender.

Female Rates
Figure 1 gives the dependence of female population, prison commitments and incarceration rates on
county population rank. The rank was determined by sorting the county female populations in
ascending order. Twenty two of the 99 counties did not have female prison commitments and the zero
values were not plotted.

Figure 1: County female populations, prison commitments and incarceration rates vs female population
rank in increasing order. The low, medium and high incarceration rate sets are denoted by blue, green
and red points respectively.
Low, Medium and High Incarceration Rates
Iowa has 99 counties and the incarceration rates were sorted in increasing order and assigned to low,
medium and high rate sets. However, 22 counties had no female commitments to prison. Table 1 gives
the distributions by set for both genders.

Table 1: Characteristics of Low, Medium and High Incarceration Rate Sets
Gender Set Counties Range Average Rate
22 0 0
11 10.1 – 16.3 13.5
Medium 33 16.3 – 34.1 23.9
High 33 34.3 – 124.9 57.1
Low 33 85.1 – 236.6 181.6
Males Medium 33 241.1 – 372.7 309.6
High 33 373.7 – 1062.2 563.3

Counties with similar populations can have large differences in incarceration rates. Johnson County
with a female population of 71.6 thousand has a female rate of 11.8 and Black Hawk County with a
female population of 68.8 thousand has a female rate of 124.9. There is a large amount of anecdotal
evidence that there are major differences between the criminal justice systems of Black Hawk and
Johnson Counties.

Figure 1:
County male populations, prison commitments and incarceration rates vs male population rank in
increasing order.
Table 2: Counties With High Female and Male Incarceration Rates
Females County Males
Commits Population Rate Commits Population Rate
Scott 58 90.506 64.1 Monona 27 4.413 611.8
Marion 11 16.769 65.6 Polk 1585 247.858 639.5
Monona 3 4.524 66.3 Cerro Gordo 142 21.777 652.1
Des Moines 14 20.412 68.6 Webster 128 19.541 655.0
Polk 182 253.737 71.7 Adams 13 1.863 697.8
Wright 5 6.926 72.2 Scott 616 88.071 699.4
Mahaska 8 11.032 72.5 Woodbury 417 57.951 719.6
Cass 6 6.711 89.4 Wapello 139 18.998 731.7
Wapello 18 19.104 94.2 Lee 150 17.702 847.4
Cerro Gordo 22 22.601 97.3 Des Moines 185 19.533 947.1
Black Hawk 86 68.838 124.9 Black Hawk 705 66.371 1062.2

1) County incarceration rates have a very large dependence on gender. That was taken into account
by dividing the data set into subsets by gender and using the county population by gender.
2) The county incarceration rates were classified into low, medium and high sets. All three sets
covered a wide range of county populations.
3) Although, gender and county populations are important factors other factors that operate at the
county level are also important.
4) A preliminary comparison of the eleven counties with the highest rates suggests that differences
in criminal behavior between counties with similar populations are too important to ignore.

Date posted: 7/25/18