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.

Posts Tagged ‘prison’

MyTwoCensus Editorial: Clarify Social Networking And Blogging Regulations

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

In a memo sent last week to all of its employees, the Census Bureau took a huge swipe at the first amendment of the US Constitution, the right to freedom of speech. The contents of the letter were as follows:

CONFIDENTIALITY AND ETHICS REMINDER

Social Networking and Census Employment

As personal blogging, tweeting, social network sites have become more common and popular, it is not unusual for Federal employees to have an opportunity to write about their work and their employer in a public forum. Please be aware that you cannot disclose any nonpublic information that is protected by statute. You also cannot receive payments for writing about Census programs or operations or about assignments you have been given as a Census employee. In addition, you must be careful to ensure that there is no appearance created that you are writing on behalf of the Bureau of the Census, the Department of Commerce, or the United States Government, when you are writing in your personal capacity.

These rules apply to all employees, as well as those who are professional writers and reporters, so please keep these considerations in mind before writing and publishing or posting an article or other writing about the census or your work as a Census Bureau employee.

As a Federal employee and a hard-working member of the Census Bureau, you have important responsibilities and obligations to the public which impose some limits on you that do not apply to persons in the private sector. Please be mindful of these responsibilities, even when engaging in personal activities such as blogging and posting on web sites.

These restrictions on writings and publications are in addition to the life-time oath you took to uphold the confidentiality of census information. Any wrongful disclosure of confidential census information subjects you to a fine of up to $250,000, imprisonment up to 5 years, or both.

*The last part of the letter was underlined, not put in bold, but I put it in bold to illustrate a point.

Just like other government officials and people who work in the private sector, Census Bureau employees are subject to confidentiality laws. However, this does not mean that the government has the right to threaten employees, particularly whistleblowers, as they have in this situation.  The Census Bureau must make clear what workers’ legal obligations are and what are simply the goals of the Census Bureau’s management and public relations team who benefit greatly from problems being kept quiet and unreported.

Ongoing issues about how the Census Bureau counts prisoners: Reform in Illinois?

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Perhaps lawmakers in Illinois are now fearing the redistricting process for 2012. Here’s the latest news from Prisoners of the Census, a Census Bureau reform group that MyTwoCensus supports.

Is recently convicted felon/hip-hop artist Chris Brown an ideal 2010 Census spokesman?

Monday, April 19th, 2010

At first glance, it sounds like someone who beat up his pop-star girlfriend (Rihanna) wouldn’t be the best PR spokesman for the Census Bureau, but maybe I’m out of touch with who America’s youth views as role models these days. Does anyone else out there find it disturbing that hip-hop artist Chris Brown is out there promoting the 2010 Census? In 2009, Brown pleaded guilty to felony assault of singer Rihanna and was sentenced to five years probation and six months of community service:

Maryland enacts law to count incarcerated people at their home addresses

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

The following comes from PrisonersOfTheCensus.org:

April 13, 2010 – Today, Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill ensuring that incarcerated persons will be counted as residents of their home addresses when new state and local legislative districts are drawn in Maryland.

The U.S. Census counts incarcerated people as residents of the prison location. When state and local government bodies use Census counts to draw legislative districts, they unintentionally enhance the weight of a vote cast in districts that contain prisons at the expense of all other districts in the state. Maryland is the first state to pledge to collect the home addresses of incarcerated people and correct the data state-wide.

The new law will help Maryland correct past distortions in representation caused by counting incarcerated persons as residents of prisons, such as the following:

  • 18% of the population currently credited to House of Delegates District 2B (near Hagerstown) is actually incarcerated people from other parts of the state. In effect, by using uncorrected Census data to draw legislative districts, the legislature granted every group of 82 residents in this districts as much political influence as 100 residents of every other district.
  • In Somerset County, a large prison is 64% of the 1st County Commission District, giving each resident in that district 2.7 times as much influence as residents in other districts. Even more troubling is that by including the prison population as “residents” in county districts, the county has been unable to draw an effective majority-African American district and has had no African-American elected to county government, despite settlement of a vote dilution lawsuit in the 1980s.

The problem is national as well. One legislative district in New York includes 7% prisoners; a legislative district in Texas includes 12% prisoners; and 15% of one Montana district are prisoners imported from other parts of the state. Indeed, the 2010 Census will find five times as many people in prison as it did just three decades ago. To address this problem, eight other states have similar bills pending in the current session or being prepared for reintroduction in the next legislative session: Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.

“The Maryland legislature has taken a much-needed step to ensure fairness in redistricting and reflect incarcerated populations in a more accurate way. Maryland’s action should pave the way for other states to end the distortions caused by counting incarcerated persons in the wrong place,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative.

“Maryland’s ‘No Representation without Population’ Act will bring the state’s redistricting practices in line with the rules Maryland uses for determining legal residence of incarcerated persons for other purposes. We applaud this common-sense solution to a growing problem of fairness in representation,” said Brenda Wright, Director of the Democracy Program at Demos.

The legislation, passed as H.B. 496 and S.B.400, applies only to redistricting and would not affect federal funding distributions.

The Prison Policy Initiative and Demos have a national project to end prison-based gerrymandering, seeking to change how the U.S. Census counts incarcerated people and how states and local governments use prison counts when drawing districts. The two groups provided technical assistance to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland and the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland who led this effort.

In addition, Mr. Wagner and Ms. Wright both testified in support of Maryland’s new law at legislative hearings this spring. Their testimony pointed out that HB496/SB400 has precedent in the practice of more than 100 rural counties around the country that currently revise the Census Bureau’s prison counts for internal districting purposes, and in the laws of states such as Kansas that adjust the Census for other purposes.

PPI and Demos long have advocated for the Census Bureau to change its practices so that incarcerated persons would be counted at their home residences on a nationwide basis. While it is too late for that change to be made for the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau’s recent decision to accelerate the release of its prison count data so that states can more readily identify prison populations in the Census will be helpful to states such as Maryland that wish to make their own adjustments.

PPI and Demos applaud the lead sponsors of the legislation, Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk and Senator Catherine Pugh, who deserve special credit for their leadership on this issue. Although both represent legislative districts that contain large prison populations currently counted as part of their districts, both recognized that the issue of fairness and accuracy in statewide redistricting should take precedence over individual concerns. PPI and Demos are also encouraged by the bi-partisan support for the bill including that of Republican Senators J. Lowell Stoltzfus and Donald F. Munson.

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

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

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. (more…)

Twitter Watch: Tweet From West Virginia Raises Suspicions

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Since MyTwoCensus.com added a Twitter widget to the lower right side of our page in December 2009, it has been very easy to observe Tweets and dialogues from across the US that pertain to the 2010 Census. However, last week, we noticed a suspicious Tweet (see below) and contacted the person who posted it. Thus far, we have not recieved a response, but we must wonder: Are federal, state, regional, or local agencies hiring people (at $29.50 per hour!!!) to complete 2010 Census forms on behalf of prisoners? Is this legal? Will this produce a fair and accurate  count? On Friday, we inquired about this Tweet with the Census Bureau. They have not yet responded to our inquiry.

Note: Follow us on Twitter at Twitter.com/MyTwoCensus

NYT: New Option for the States on Inmates in the Census/2006 Census Bureau Prison Report

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

From the New York Times (click here for full article):

For decades, predominantly rural and Republican districts have had extra clout in state and local legislative bodies because their large inmate populations were counted as local residents in apportioning representation. Now, the Census Bureau has agreed to give states a tool that could dilute the political power of those districts.

In May 2011, in time for Congressional and legislative reapportionment, the bureau will identify exactly where group quarters like prisons are and how many people occupy them. States would then have the option of counting them in the local population or not.

“This removes a technical problem,” said Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative, an advocacy group that favors alternatives to prison sentences and urges that inmates be counted in their hometowns. “The census is going to say where the prisons are and how many people are in them, which will enable states the practical choice of counting them in the wrong place or not counting them at all.”

Mr. Wagner and other groups had originally asked the bureau to determine the home addresses of inmates and to count them at those addresses, but the 2010 census process was too far along for that change to be considered.

A number of states — including Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New York and Wisconsin — are weighing legislation requiring that prisoners be counted at their last known address — for purposes of reapportionment, a change that would likely favor larger and mostly Democratic cities.

In New York, the change could prove pivotal because of the see-saw fight for control of the State Senate and the fact that the state faces the loss of at least one Congressional seat after the 2010 census.

Update: A reader provided us with a link to a document that shows the Census Bureau’s 2006 position on this issue in the from a comprehensive report. The report concludes the following:

“Counting prisoners at a ‘permanent home of record’ address, rather than at their place of
incarceration, would result in increased cost both to the decennial census program and to
the Federal, State, and local correctional facilities that would be required to participate in
data collection efforts.  Our study raises concerns that this change would result in
decreased accuracy for a possibly large proportion of millions of individuals confined on
Census day.  The completeness of the census count would be compromised for prisoners
that cannot provide a valid address, and we have no method of determining how many
individuals would fall into that category.  Further, a fundamental shift for the enumeration
of correctional facilities would likely have a negative impact on other Group Quarters
enumerations.”

N.Y. lawmakers criticize inmate census rule

Friday, January 29th, 2010

In New York, two state lawmakers (with Rev. Al Sharpton) are criticizing the Census Bureau policy of counting inmates in the district where they are incarcerated, rather than their home communities.

From the Albany Times-Union:

The longtime U.S. Census Bureau guideline was denounced as “prison-based gerrymandering” by Sen. Eric Schneiderman, D-Manhattan, and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, D-Brooklyn, who were joined by Sharpton and more than two dozen advocacy groups at a news conference at New York City Hall.

“This is an injustice all across America,” Schneiderman said. “We pass hundreds and hundreds of bills every year about highways and forestry and insurance and sewers. This bill is different. This bill is about justice.”

The Times-Union also delves into the pros and cons of the current policy, which a regional manager tells the paper is unlikely to change this year:

Alice Green, executive director for the Center of Law and Justice in Albany, has opposed the Census policy for more than two decades. “Prisoners are not allowed to vote, but yet we count them and then exploit them,” she said.

Because of the location of most state prisons, Census Bureau policy tends to benefit the upstate population count.

New York’s rural 45th Senate District, which includes Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Warren and Washington counties, houses over 13,500 inmates incarcerated in 13 prisons.

Queensbury Republican Sen. Elizabeth Little, who has represented the district since 2002, supports the current Census Bureau guidelines.

“How do we know these people are going to go back to their hometowns once — or if — they are released?,” Little said. “Are they serving life sentences? Do they still have family in their hometowns?”

Prison Spotlight: The Diversity Myth

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Here’s an interesting angle about the 2010 Census from a Kansas City Star opinion piece:

How Places With Prisons Falsely Boost “Diversity”

By Marie Sanchez

The 2010 U.S. census will soon be upon us, and by now you may have heard one of the patriotic pitches to comply.

Every breathing soul must be tallied during the massive federal endeavor, the national headcount taken every decade. The census is central to the functioning of our democracy, we’re told.

The data are used to distribute $400 billion in government spending, to compile countless reports on educational needs, to plan for economic development and formulate public policy.

More important, census data have a direct bearing on congressional districts and the Electoral College. The information is crucial to help us uphold the constitutional principle of one person, one vote.

So why, then, is the federal government gearing up to distort this vital set of data by how it accounts for the nation’s booming prison population? Prisoners are counted, not according to their home address but where they are incarcerated.

At a glance, this might not seem like a big deal — until the details of our nation’s 2 million inmates are broken down. Rural communities with large prison populations suddenly appear to be bastions of diversity, while those without prisons continue to see their population numbers slide.

On average, inmates serve for 34 months before returning to their original communities. They never shop, dine, attend school or otherwise become members of the towns and cities where they are warehoused while paying their debt to society.

One distortion this way of counting population causes is what some activists call “prison-based gerrymandering.” Because population figures are used to determine legislative districts, voting power is diluted in some areas and falsely ramped up in others.

The NAACP, no doubt recalling how black people were once considered three-fifths of a person for the purpose of representation, was among the first organizations to call for reform. Because 12 percent of black men in their 20s and 30s are in prison at any one time, urban areas lose out on the strength of those uncounted inmates.

But it’s actually rural communities, where prisons are often built, that suffer the most from the distortions. Peter Wagner, a Massachusetts-based advocate for the Prison Policy Initiative, has found 173 counties where more than half of the black population is made up of inmates. Seven state senate districts in New York alone, he argues, would need to be redrawn if inmates were omitted from population figures for the areas where they are doing time.

Local officials in some parts of the country have responsibly attempted to eliminate the distortions. Bravo. The town of Anamosa, Iowa, changed the way it elects city council members after discovering that the population of a state penitentiary created a ward where a candidate got elected on the strength of two write-in votes. His inmate constituency of about 1,300 prisoners was roughly as populous as the town’s other wards.

With census-takers already completing the process of verifying addresses for the spring headcount, it’s too late for the government to change how it plans to conduct the 2010 census. Recording the true home address of inmates would be costly (an estimated $250 million), and many prisons don’t have the information readily available.

What the government can do to help rectify the situation is release the prison data earlier than planned, in time for states to take the information and delete those numbers for redistricting purposes.

Criminals forfeit a lot when they get locked up. They lose the right to vote, in all but two states.

They lose daily interaction with loved ones and the chance to engage in meaningful work. What they shouldn’t lose is the sense that their presence counts.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send e-mail to msanchez@kcstar.com.

MyTwoCensus Data Capture Center Investigation Part 3: From the Federal Penitientary to the Federal Government

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

We urge you to please read our first post about security concerns at America’s three data capture centers before reading this post.

Situation: You’re an ex-con, fresh out of prison, and you need a job. Who do you turn to? Well, if you live in Baltimore there’s a high likelihood that you would turn to Maryland New Directions, a non-profit organization that assists people finding jobs. This is surely a noble mission, but it may make some Americans queasy if they knew that the people reading, logging, and scanning their 2010 Census data had gone from living at a federal penitentiary to working for the federal government (Of course they are actually employed by subcontractor Computer Sciences Corporation, but you get the picture: These people are bound by the same regulations as all other Census Bureau employees so it’s a fine line they’re walking.).

*Also note that Baltimore public defender Coriolanus A.J. Ferrusi is on the Maryland New Directions board.