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Interactive Charts Examining California's Prison System

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Flickr/Bart Everson

Who does California place behind bars? According to the CDCR 2011 data, most inmates originate from Southern California and are non-white. Other data also shows that around 20 percent of inmates are age 50 and up and 95 percent of all inmates are male. Explore KQED’S The Lowdown’s interactive charts that take a closer look at the demographics of inmates in California.


Find hundreds more engaging math-focused media and integrated activities, all aligned with CCSS at PBS LearningMedia. 

Suggested Activity:


Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to

  • solve problems involving finding a part, given the whole and the percent
  • use data to make an argument


Common Core State Standards: 6.RP.A.3c, 6.SP.B.5

Vocabulary: Percentages, ratios, infographic, incarcerated

Materials: Calculators; Infographic handout

Preparation: Make a pie chart with some actual data about students. Suggestions include birthday season, eye color, or number of siblings. Data should be represented as percentages.


1. Optional Introduction (5–10 minutes, whole group)

Begin by showing the pie chart you prepared. Ask students for their observations: What information does the chart show? Explain that the pie chart shows percentages, but that you can figure out the actual numbers that the percentages represent if you know the total number of people who were surveyed. (If necessary, remind students that percentages are ratios, and that they express quantities as part of 100.) Show students this equation:

[Total # surveyed] * [% Responding] = [# of Respondents]

Now enter data into the equation and solve for the number of respondents. Repeat for each category in the pie chart so that students see that the total number of respondents equals the total number surveyed.

After students have figured out the number of respondents for each category, ask them whether the data help them come to any conclusions about the distribution of birthdays, eye color, or number of siblings. What observations can they make based on the data?

2. Prison Population Activity (10 minutes, small groups)

Hand out the infographic. Explain to students that an infographic, or information graphic, is a visual image designed to present complex information quickly and clearly. Give students a few minutes to look at the infographic on their own and then ask if they have any questions about how the data are presented. (Note: In the “California Prison Population by Race” graph, you may wish to explain that the second and fourth bars are the distribution of races in the general, non-incarcerated population.)

Have students choose to review either the age and gender infographics or the race infographic. They should use the data in the infographic and the information about the total number of people in California’s prisons to calculate how many people of each age, gender, or race are imprisoned. Students may use calculators during this part of the activity.

3. Data Analysis Activity (10 minutes, small groups)

Once students have finished the calculations, have them look critically at the data with other groups who analyzed different graphs. Based on what they have learned, ask students to identify which populations (in terms of age, gender, and race) are overrepresented. Do prisons have the same demographics as the non-incarcerated population? What does this say about crime and punishment in California? If students were in charge of crime-prevention efforts for California, toward which groups and subgroups should they target their programming?

4. Conclusion (5 minutes, whole group)

Quickly review student calculations of the total number of people in prison, broken down by age, gender, and race. Then have students do some analysis. Ask them

  •  Were you surprised by any of the data?
  •  What conclusions can you draw from the data?
  •  What recommendations did you make about crime-prevention efforts?

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