Census Won't Alter Counting of Inmates

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Census Bureau has concluded that changing its practice of counting inmates as part of the population of the region where they are incarcerated would be an expensive undertaking so burdensome that it could introduce new inaccuracies into the population count.

For years, criminal justice activists have lobbied for the change 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.

But the bureau said in a report requested by Congress and released this week that many of the home addresses of inmates on file at prisons are incomplete. It concluded that the change would require interviews with inmates and other efforts that would cost $250 million.

"Our study raises concerns that this change would result in decreased accuracy for a possibly large proportion of millions of individuals confined on census day," the report said.

"Instead of providing an overview of how they could make this change in methodology work, the Census Bureau only makes excuses for why they don't believe it should be done," said Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), who inserted language into a bill last year that ordered the Census Bureau to study the issue.

The number of people incarcerated in state and federal prisons is about 1.5 million.

-- Zachary A. Goldfarb

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