Sunday, May 02, 2010

Counting prisoners skews precinct drawing in rural counties

The Victoria Advocate published a story this morning about the effect of prison populations on rural redistricting, a subject discussed recently on Grits after Maryland became the first state to require counting inmates in their home counties instead of the county in which their unit is housed. Reports the Advocate:

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


TDCJEX said...

This is a important issue that receives very little attention . Not only are congressional districts at at stake but federal funding that is determined by population and the income levels in a county and town obviously prisoners are going to artificially decrease the incomes levels . That are will receive less funding from the federal government for all kinds of things I know that places such as Huntsville in walker country a lot of funding from the federal government for things since has new schools rod projects and so on I know that Gatesville has all kind of new goodies built from funding that it gets because of the massive TDCJ complex near by . Add in FT Hood and the whole is highly dependent on the federal government for it economy . So much for not wanting the government to spend money it is just where and on who the money is spent and who gets it . If this remains quite I wound not mind a number of right wing districts disappeared and b more practical pragmatic ones take their place

While not always the case most districts that are have a high prisoner populations tend to be right wing leaning in their politics . Should this change and those districts vanish . The political shift could have effects not oln Austin but in the Washington . If TX loses a few hard right legislators . The political landscape in DC changes .The same can be said for California and Florida where prison ditics tend otvote hard right ;. to maintaining ther flow of government funding . If we had less prisoners they get less money . . We might also see a change in laws and what is and what is not a felony. Along with thebe goings of changes to our current system . which needs to be tron down and rebuilt it is a failure No one can say it is working unless you benefit forum it in employment directly or indirectly . .

Better yet why not let prisoners vote as members of the community the were residents in before conviction . That would be interesting I see no reason a prisoners should not vote except as showing how “tough” we are they are after all citizens unless they are either legal residents or undocumented immigrants .

Texas prison “biddness “ and to be fair any state prison business is big business with their own lobby . Who lobby for more laws longer sentences . and less rights for us all. .

Anonymous said...

Prisoners are NOT legal residents of the counties in which they are housed. They are residents of the last county in which they had residency, or where they lived prior to their admission into the prison system. Thus, when and if prisoners are counted for census purposes -- the federal government has already addressed this -- they should be counted in the counties from whence they came (e.g., Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, and Bexar would obviously benefit the most). That Texas does not utilize this system when counting is disgraceful and evidences a double standard: Prisoners cannot vote -- nor can they even while they are on parole -- though politicians in their districts receive additional representation and power, albeit from a constituency who cannot take part in the political process. This yet another reason why so much attention is given to the motions of bigoted, rural rednecks in both Houses of the Legislature.