Census includes state prison inmates at part of national count


May 1, 2010 at 12:01 a.m.

U.S. Census workers just finished counting inmates in area state prisons.

The count is part of the national census count under way.

Inmate counts for counties such as Bee, DeWitt and Karnes counties could not only affect redistricting, but also state legislative seats.

Some people have raised concerns about prisoners accounting for a large percentage of a county's population.

An increase in population spurred by inmate numbers could mean new districts.

Prisoners in Anderson and Walker counties, for example, account for 12 percent of the respective populations, said Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative.

If inmates are counted toward a county's population, some areas might receive a disproportionate number of legislative seats, said D'Vera Cohn, senior writer of the Pew Research Center.

Maryland will be the first state to include prisoners only as part of the population, but ignore the numbers when it comes to redistricting, said Cohn.

"It becomes a political issue in those districts that have prisons and those that don't," said Cohn.

This population could effect additional legislative seats for certain districts.

"The Census Bureau has agreed to provide states with this information early enough so when redistricting, states can decide where to count the inmates." said Cohn.

As a result of population increases in the state, new districts will result in additional legislative seats.

Gloria Gonzalez, census partnership specialist explained that during the group count, inmates were counted where they resided as of April 1.

"If they have resided in the prison for the majority of time, they will be counted there and they would be part of the county count," Gonzalez said.

According to census rules, an individual must be counted at his usual residence, said Cohn.

Bee County, which has one maximum security prison and two transfer units, ignores inmate populations, he added.

By counting the jail population in a county would inflate the number of people who have a vote.

"It dilutes the number of people who have the power to vote," Wagner said.

Districts must be equal and with inmates accounting for a majority versus another district without a prison, their vote is weighed.

Bee County counts those in prison, but base it on their legal residence, said Wagner.

A complete count of inmates in the Crossroads area was completed in early April, Gonzalez said.

"As it turns out, where prisoners are counted, doesn't have much of an impact on funding," said Wagner, as much of the funding that result from the census are state block grants.

The grants are awarded to the state based on population.

"Prisoners do not usually cross state lines," said Wagner of the slim effect counting inmates would have in funding.

The effect would be greater if the inmates were from different states.

Cohn added that some counties have tried to count prisoners in their legal residence, but have had issues locating their homes.



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