< /head > Colorado Coalition for Human Rights: How and Where Inmates are Counted

Monday, January 30, 2006

How and Where Inmates are Counted

From the Washington Post, an article about how prisoners, while not allowed to vote, are counted in the census where they are held, thus giving uneven electoral power to rural areas that have built large prisons. What is most disturbing to me is the fact that the majority of politicans will debate how and where to count prisoners, but few will debate whether they should have the right to vote or not. From the article:

Since the first U.S. census in 1790, there has been a rule for keeping track of the convicts sitting in prisons: They are counted in the state and region where they are serving their time, not necessarily the place they did their crime or will call home once they are out of the joint.
How to count inmates historically has not been a big issue. But the fast-expanding prison population -- now about 1.5 million -- is prompting a debate because government spending and electoral district boundaries are in part decided by population. Opponents say the practice unfairly rewards rural, often sparsely populated regions where many prisons are built, at the expense of the cities where many prisoners had resided. "For people in prison, their bodies count but their voices don't," said Kirsten Levingston, director of the criminal justice program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "Their presence in the tabulation column expands the influence of those who have an incentive to keep them in prison, not those who need the resources to help keep them out." Now, after a congressional directive, the Census Bureau is studying what it would take to change the policy, and the National Academy of Sciences will also report on the question. The issue pits the bureau, resistant to change its long-standing procedure, against activists who say that the practice results in misleading demographic data and large distortions in the size of electoral districts. It also pits rural lawmakers against urban ones.

Click here to read the full article.

--Tom Hayes


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