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The Big Graph

The Big GraphThe United States imprisons approximately 2 million citizens, one of the highest incarceration rates in the world by far, and yet has no national prison museum. Eastern State Penitentiary is introducing public dialogue around issues of crime, justice, and the changing face of our criminal justice system.

The Big Graph
This 16-foot tall, 3,500-pound plate steel sculpture illustrates three sets of statistics, depending on the viewer’s position. From the south, The Big Graph illustrates the unprecedented growth in U.S. incarceration rates since 1900. From the north it illustrates the racial breakdown of the American prison population in 1970 and today. From the east, The Big Graph charts every nation in the world, both by rate of incarceration and by policies around capital punishment.

The Big Graph can be updated through the year 2030.

The expansion of the U.S. prison system in the past 50 years is truly historic in scale. For more than a century, the U.S. imprisoned between 100 and 200 people for every 100,000 citizens. That began to change around the time that Eastern State Penitentiary closed in 1970. New laws and longer prison sentences began to dramatically increase the prison population. Today the U.S. imprisons between 500 and 600 people for every 100,000 citizens. This is one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world. Crime rates have gone up and down throughout these years. They are largely independent of the rate of incarceration.

The Big Graph is accessible to all historic site visitors and is included with admission.

Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration is a companion exhibit to The Big Graph. Learn more.

The Big Graph is supported in part by revenue from Eastern State Penitentiary's Halloween fundraiser and a grant from The George W. Rentschler Foundation.

2017 American Aliance of Museums Excellence in Exhibitions Overall Winner