Description of the project

WHERE ARE THE PRISONS

Of the five ingredients of a news story – who, what, where, when and why – this project deals only with the third, where. The goal of the project is to assemble in one place a list of the longitudes and latitudes of prisons.

MUCH WORK HAS ALREADY BEEN DONE

There are thousands of prisons so reaching this goal will take a long time. But the project is not starting from square one. There is a mass of geographic information on the web that only needs to be gathered. There’s Wikipedia’s listing of about 2500 prisons, most with longitude and latitude. Also, Wikimapia (not related to Wikipedia) has prison locations. Newspaper stories and human rights websites are also sources of location information. Many countries have websites listing their prisons with enough information that they can be located on Google Earth.

HUNTING ON THE WEB

Locating Matamoros prison involved a news story about an escape that mentioned roadblocks on Sendero Nacional, a search on Google Earth along that road turned up a prison. Then another news story contained a ground level picture that confirmed that the prison in the satellite photo was indeed Matamoros prison (25°50’42”N 97°40’03”W).

AN UNFINISHED HUNT
ON THE WEB

There is in Douala, Cameroon the New Bell Prison. By all accounts, it is in the city’s New Bell district. It is reported to be near the central market. There are ground-level photographs of it posted on the internet. The photographs, however, are not taken from vantage points that make it possible to identify it in the satellite photographs on Google Earth. We’ll have to wait for more information, because the staff here hasn’t the resources to go to Douala or enough French to get around in the city after arriving there. Language is a problem.

LIMITED LANGUAGE

The staff here is limited to English, which in North America is good enough for the territory north of Mexico’s northern border, but just south of that border, in Tijuana, a lack of Spanish is a handicap. It is such a handicap that finding a prison that is as well known and as large as La Mesa (32°30’21”N 116°58’12”W) took more than a day.

ENGLISH IS NOT ENOUGH

The part of the earth accessible in English is large, but the part outside is larger.
Across North Africa and into the Middle East, Arabic is indispensable. English will do pretty well in Pakistan and India, but Iran requires Farsi. Russia and China have their own languages with a different alphabet and with no alphabet. Japanese and Korean are opaque in this office. In Southeast Asia and much of Africa, French would be a big help. This project will need to expand to function in a world where people communicate in so many different formats.