My Two Census

Formerly the non-partisan watchdog of the 2010 US Census, and currently an opinion blog that covers all things political, media, foreign policy, globalization, and culture…but sometimes returning to its census/demographics roots.

Two interesting articles from Maryland and Texas about prisoners and the 2010 Census…

From the Herald-Mail in Maryland:

Bill would alter inmate count for Census

By ERIN JULIUS

ANNAPOLIS — Washington County might lose about 6,000 people from its legislative and congressional districts because of a bill that has been passed by both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly.

The bill excludes state inmates who were not state residents before their incarceration, and requires that prisoners be counted as residents of their last known address before prison.

About 6,000 prisoners are housed in the three state prisons south of Hagerstown, a prison spokesman said Friday.

Local jail populations are not included in the bill.

All but one of Washington County’s eight local lawmakers voted against the measure.

The change in how to count the population will be relevant in creating legislative districts for the U.S. Congress, Maryland General Assembly, and county and municipal governing bodies, according to the bill.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, called the bill “a blatant power grab by, predominantly, the Baltimore City delegation.” Changing how prisoners are counted will benefit the Baltimore City and Prince George’s County delegations because most of the prisoners in the state prison system are from the more urban areas of the state.

Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, also expressed concerns. Two areas Edwards represents — Washington and Allegany counties — would be affected.

About 3,000 state prisoners are held in two facilities near Cumberland, a prison spokesman said.

Another 1,503 prisoners are held by the Bureau of Prisons at a federal facility in Cumberland, according to a fiscal note prepared by the Department of Legislative Services that was attached to the bill.

After the 2000 census, the ideal population for a General Assembly district — with a plus or minus 5 percent margin of error — is 112,691. The ideal congressional district size is 662,061.

The state legislative districts are expected to increase to about 120,000 following the 2010 census, and the congressional districts are expected to grow to about 722,425, according to the fiscal note.

Edwards believes the change in population counts — taking 4,000 people out of Allegany County’s population — could push the outlines of his district, District 1, further east into Washington County because Garrett and Allegany counties are not growing, Edwards said.

However, it’s tough to judge what will happen without the numbers, and with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, things might stay as they are, he said.

It’s unfair, however, because having prison facilities in its midst puts pressure on a community’s public services, Edwards said.

“It’s important they maintain getting the money per person per capita,” he said.

Shank also mentioned the impact prisons have on local services. He cited the local criminal justice system and hospital as two examples.

Shank also thinks it’s likely that District 1 will further encroach into Washington County and that his district — Subdistrict 2B — might get pushed into Frederick County as a result of the change in counts, he said.

Residents in that district then, potentially, might be represented by someone who is not a Washington County resident, he said.

“That’s a real serious problem,” he said.

Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, also voted against the bill, calling it a power grab. The public perception of prisoners staying in the surrounding community once released is another way the facilities affect local areas, Kelly said.

Kelly doesn’t believe former inmates do stay, but it’s a perception those communities must deal with, he said.

Shank believes some prisoners might stay.

“There’s no guarantee those people will return to those districts,” he said.

State Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, voted for the bill in the Senate. He also is one of the heads of the census in Washington County.

The bill will allow Maryland to join a group of states that have an agreement with the U.S. Census Bureau to more clearly identify certain groups, including prisoners, Munson said.

Munson believes the bill will improve data collected by the census and have little effect on Washington County, he said.

While the strain prisons put on the local criminal justice system is a valid point, Munson believes the amount that prison employees pay in taxes far outweighs that cost, to the benefit of Washington County, he said.

From the Houston Chronicle in Texas:

Prisoners, students sway census count

Where they’re tallied can affect federal funding

By R.G. RATCLIFFE

AUSTIN — As the official 2010 Census Day passed Thursday, it was clear that Harris, Bexar and three other large urban counties will lose about 67,000 residents to rural Texas.

That’s because prison inmates are counted where they’re in prison rather than where they were convicted.

But Texas also will gain population statewide from among the more than 8,000 illegal immigrants held in federal detention facilities and from the out-of-state inmates who are among the 31,000 federal prisoners held here.

These federal facilities may enhance Texas’ ability to obtain population-based federal grants, and could shift some funding from urban counties to rural. But sometimes, as in the case of Walker County, they give a locality enough excess population to make it ineligible for some federal funding allocated for rural areas.

And just as state prisons tend to transfer population from urban to rural areas, the state’s universities draw concentrations of population to urban centers.

All students in dormitories are counted there rather than at their parents’ homes, and many apartment-dwelling students will name their college home as their residence as of April 1 for the census.

Thursday was the official day that the census is creating a snapshot of America.

The redistribution of state population by prisons and colleges can affect how federal funding flows into an area. And it also affects population for redistricting.

The impact sometimes can be dramatic.

The town of Eden, near the geographic center of Texas, has a population of about 3,000 — half of whom live in a federal penitentiary.

Inmates can’t vote

Walker County, whose county seat is Huntsville, has 13,000 people — about 21 percent of its 63,000-person population — living in state prison units. Sam Houston State University in Huntsville has about 15,000 students; some 3,140 are housed on campus, making them Huntsville residents for the census.

Peter Wagner, a national prison reform advocate, said by counting prisoners where they are incarcerated, the census gives a disproportionate clout to rural legislators through redistricting. He said those lawmakers are more likely to be state advocates of building more prisons.

“If you have a prison in your district, you have greater say in your government,” Wagner said.

That’s because prison inmates count toward a legislative district’s total population, but in Texas incarcerated felons also are denied the right to vote.

Demographics tell a tale

Wagner said for the purposes of drawing legislative and congressional district boundaries in 2011, the Texas Legislature should treat prison inmates as “address unknown.” He said at least three Texas counties do not include prison populations when drawing county commissioner precinct lines.

Republican redistricting expert Eric Opiela said the counties that do that just haven’t been challenged in court. Opiela said the federal “one-man, one-vote” standard requires the prisoners to be counted, and he said it is impractical to track the residence of origin for inmates.

“You also have many prisoners who will not get out of prison during the 10 years of the census,” Opiela added.

Democratic redistricting expert Matt Angle said it is appropriate to count inmates and students where they are because they have an impact on their communities.

Angle noted that out of the estimated 757,600 people in Austin, 50,000 are students at the University of Texas.

“Austin completely understands that it matters that the students are there,” he said.

A strong indication of what it might mean to a congressman can come from looking at the demographics of the district held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, who represents much of the UT population.

According to the 2000 Census, about 45 percent of the population of Doggett’s district had moved there from some other part of the state in the previous five years. About 10 percent of his district’s population was identified as college students.

Prison inmates make up about 12 percent of the population in the district of state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham. That’s one of the largest concentrations of inmates in a Texas legislative district.

Good side and bad

The population may give her an edge in redistricting, Kolkhorst said, but she said it also means her office spends a lot of time working with inmate families.

“I dedicate almost a full-time staffer to handling prison mail and issues with the families,” she said.

Kolkhorst said prisons do attract jobs to the communities that house them and do bring some federal funds.

But she said they also can be a problem for governments, noting that a prison is real estate that doesn’t count on the county tax rolls.

And she noted that the population cut-off for federal rural development bloc grants is 50,000 people. She said the inmate population pushes Walker County above that threshold.

“So there are times when it actually hurts us,” Kolkhorst said.

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