Inmate counts for counties such as Bee, DeWitt and Karnes counties could not only affect redistricting, but also state legislative seats.
Some people have raised concerns about prisoners accounting for a large percentage of a county's population.
An increase in population spurred by inmate numbers could mean new districts.
Prisoners in Anderson and Walker counties, for example, account for 12 percent of the respective populations, said Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative.
If inmates are counted toward a county's population, some areas might receive a disproportionate number of legislative seats, said D'Vera Cohn, senior writer of the Pew Research Center.
Maryland will be the first state to include prisoners only as part of the population, but ignore the numbers when it comes to redistricting, said Cohn.
"It becomes a political issue in those districts that have prisons and those that don't," said Cohn.
Even more interesting to me than the legislative implications of this topic - which might result in the Houston and DFW areas gaining a seat or two between them in the Texas House if inmates were all counted in their home counties - are the implications for drawing precincts defining county-level offices from commissioners to constables to justices of the peace.
According to Prisoners of the Census, inmates made up 21% or more of the total number of people counted in 10 Texas counties during the last census. When one is tasked with dividing the county into four voting precincts and one of them includes a massive prison (or three) full of people who can't vote, that creates an odd dilemma that clearly quite a few Texas counties face with every new redistricting.
Recently the Texas Tribune published an interactive map of all 112 Texas prison units operated or leased by the Department of Criminal Justice, while the blog Texas Prison Bidness has published a similarly useful interactive map of the more than 70 for-profit private prisons, jails, and detention centers operated around the state. There is some overlap, but between the two it's easy to see that many counties must accommodate prison inmates in their county-level district drawing. Some prisons even lie within city limits and possibly affect city council district drawing.
Until recently I'd never much considered the effects of prisons on districts beyond the statehouse level, but it's an interesting subplot to a debate that's always been treated at the Lege as purely a partisan concern.
Image via Prisoners of the Census