Wednesday, April 1, 2020

On Census Day: Renewed debate on how/where to count the incarcerated in rural prisons

Kurtis Lee and Sandhya Kambhampati report for the Los Angeles Times from Canon City, Colorado, population 16,400, under the headline, "Should the census count black and Latino inmates in rural prisons as area residents?"  This is a perennial debate being raised again now because it is Census Day.  Here's an excerpt from the LA Times story:
After the tally is completed, states will use the numbers to redraw legislative and congressional districts, a once-per-decade procedure with broad implications for whether communities of color have an equitable opportunity at electing candidates who represent their interests and will fight for their concerns. And, in turn, the outcome of redistricting has a ripple effect on what programs — housing, education, healthcare — are funded over the next 10 years.
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The U.S. Census Bureau counts inmates as residents of the counties where they’re imprisoned — a practice that officials say is meant to provide the most accurate and fair way of capturing a moment-in-time count. Still, in recent years, a wave of states have passed laws requiring post-count adjustments during legislative redistricting to avoid what critics refer to as prison gerrymandering. 
Advocates contend that regions where prisons are located — often rural, predominantly white areas — have unfairly inflated their numbers, and thus their political clout, by being able to count inmates such as Marquantte, who is black. Many of the inmates are Latino or black men from more densely populated areas. 
Lee and Kambhampati quote Professor Justin Levitt of Loyola LA Law School:
Counting people who are incarcerated where they have been imprisoned leads to a big distortion. The people incarcerated in a prison facility are often vastly demographically and socioeconomically different from the profile of local residents, with vastly different needs.

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