Prisoners of the Census

By Jordan Smith
Austin Chronicle
November 12, 2004

In a Nov. 8 press release, the Prison Policy Initiative released an analysis of how the government's method for counting prisoners negatively affects Texas' urban centers. According to the PPI - a group that does research and advocacy work related to incarceration policy - the Census Bureau's policy of counting prisoners as residents of the mainly rural areas where they are incarcerated hurts their urban home cities. "This inflates the population of rural prison hosting areas, and shortchanges the urban areas," said Rose Heyer, an author of the group's report.

According to the report, the census-counting "quirk" credited rural legislative districts with 25,000 incarcerated Harris Co. residents and 20,000 Dallas Co. residents. "Miscounting prisoners changes the way that state legislative districts are drawn," report author Peter Wagner said in the press release. "This census policy creates an inaccurate picture of our communities, and state legislatures that rely on Census data likely violate the constitutional principle of one-person, one-vote." According to the report, 21% of the population of 21 counties across the country is incarcerated elsewhere, and 10 of those counties are in Texas.

For example, Texas House District 13 (represented by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham), which includes Huntsville, counts among its population 16,670 inmates (11.9% of the district's total population), a higher percentage of inmates than any other U.S. county. Since Texas prisoners cannot vote, the report's authors note, "every group of 88 residents in District 13 gets as much say as 100 people in Houston or Dallas." See the entire report at www.prisonersofthecensus.org/texas.

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