Monday, April 27, 2009

Census Counting and Inmates

Most people probably don't ever to stop to think of this (why would they?) but inmates in prison are usually counted by the Census Bureau as "residents" of the prison and locale in which they are incarcerated at the time of the census. The problem is that this creates a false population for political purposes.

[F]for some civil liberties groups and the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative, which has analyzed the last census numbers, counting inmates in prisons distorts population numbers in New York and several other states. Rural areas are shown to be more populous than they are, these critics say, while urban areas -- which produce most of the inmates -- are routinely under-counted.

States and counties rely on population numbers from the census to draw their legislative districts. In New York and some other states, Republicans continue to have clout in legislatures because they are elected from safely conservative, rural districts even as those areas lose people. The exception to that population decline: inmates, whose numbers have grown because of tough mandatory sentencing laws.

It comes up every decade and the Census Bureau refuses to change its policy: "We're following the concept of 'usual residence' -- where the person lives and sleeps most of the time."

Even though the idea of a prison inmate referring to his cell as his "residence" is laughable.

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