Life on a ‘million dollar block’

Visit a small area of South LA that accounts for thousands of jail bookings.

Why are so many people sent to jail in Los Angeles and what effect is this having on the city and county? It turns out, UCLA historian Kelly Lytle Hernandez has been asking these same questions. For the past year she’s been working with a team of researchers and community groups “mapping incarceration in Los Angeles.”

By using arrest data from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and Los Angeles Police Department they are building a map that shows which Los Angeles areas arrestees come from. It’s a patchwork picture of what Lytle Hernandez calls “the country’s carceral capital.”

They’ve also calculated how much this incarceration costs, and found some census blocks where more than a million dollars was spent locking up residents. Among these “million dollar blocks” are parts of Lancaster, Palmdale, Compton, and South Los Angeles.

There have been projects like this one in other parts of the country, with large prison and jail populations, including New York, Chicago and New Orleans. “But no one has mapped Los Angeles and this is really important because Los Angeles has the largest jail population in the country,” says Lytle Hernandez.

Off the Block begins on one of those “Million Dollar Blocks.” This one in and around Westmont, in South LA, where nearly everyone I met had been to jail or knew someone who had.