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Question of the day

Wednesday, Mar 30, 2011

* Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) wants future Census-takers to count prison inmates as residents of their home towns, not where they are currently residing, as has been common practice in Illinois

For example, in 2010, when U.S. Census workers tallied the population of Randolph County in southwestern Illinois, they included in their total the 3,552 inmates locked up in Menard Correctional Center, the state’s largest maximum-security prison.

Though the men serving time there can’t vote, they account for more than 10 percent of the county’s population.

The higher head count makes counties such as Randolph eligible for a bigger share of the pie when state and federal money is distributed. The population count affects everything from funding for the sewer system that carries waste from Menard and the nearby town of Chester, to financing for the county courthouse, which handles disciplinary cases stemming from prison yard fights.

State Sen. John O. Jones, R-Mount Vernon, whose district encompasses Big Muddy and Centralia correctional centers and nearly 3,500 prisoners, is among lawmakers who say the local benefit is only fair because those counties are the ones dealing with the inmate issues. […]

On current legislative maps, prisoners who serve even a two-year prison sentence are recorded as residents of the correctional center for the next 10 years.

Rep. Ford’s bill is here.

* The Question: Should the Census count prisoners who are serving less than 10-year sentences in their home towns or in their prisons? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments…

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - cermak_rd - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:05 pm:

    While yes, those towns are dealing with some items regarding the prison such as waste and court cases, they are also reaping the jobs that those prisons bring to their towns. So I would say they should be happy to get the jobs.

  2. - Listening In - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:06 pm:

    The downstate counties where inmates are housed may have to deal with the maintenance of such populations, but the hometown area has to deal with the tougher issue of reintroduction into society, job training and assistance, housing, and the inevitable crime that results from those with a felony record who cannot find all those things, and the tax dollars that subsidize those services. Plus, doesn’t counting these non-votes in the census give those correctional facility counties a larger population in the remap? In our current legal system, I bet those legislators NEVER lose population…

  3. - Responsa - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:07 pm:

    The yes-no questionaire does not seem to match the either- or question.

  4. - Cheryl44 - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:13 pm:

    I’m with Responsa–I can’t answer the poll the way it’s written. Prisoners should be counted as population in the prison even if they’re only there for one census round. It’s not as if people outside of prison don’t move around in the 10 years between counts.

  5. - TJ - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:15 pm:

    Yeah, the questionnaire doesn’t make any sense. Might want to change it. As of right now, it’s an either/or question but the options are yes/no.

  6. - Beowulf - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:17 pm:

    I would think that whichever area is being “the most” financially impacted by their incarceration should be eligible to count them as their residents. Census-counts are primarily taken to derive statistical information for the purpose of economic impact studies. Maybe the 10 year time frame needs to be changed to something like “any sentence less than 5 years counts only as being one-half resident”for the purposes of county economic compensation. Most prison sentences are eventually cut in one-half for “good behaviour time” when you really are honest about it. I doubt if that fact is taken into consideration when the money is being handed out.

  7. - MrJM - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:18 pm:

    Should the Census count prisoners who are serving less than 10-year sentences in their home towns or in their prisons?

    In their home towns.

    No one can pretend that politicians who push for mandatory and maximized sentences in order to keep the local prison full and local prison workers employed are in anyway representing the interests of those inmates.

    – MrJM

  8. - shore - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:19 pm:

    No. If you’re not living there you don’t count. If you want feel sentimental buy a teddy bear or look at old photos.

  9. - Just Observing - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:19 pm:

    Ditto on the question not being written correctly.

    Cheryl44 makes a good point that non-prisoners move around too. Moreover, if one prisoner leaves he or she is likely replaced by another (or even two) prisoners.

  10. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:22 pm:

    They should count them where they’re at; it’s a snapshot in time and a hard enough job as it is.

    Arguing over which communities should get the spoils of convicted felons is ludicrous; not exactly a long-term strategy for building a viable community.

  11. - Stones - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:25 pm:

    As long as those areas don’t mind if the inmates take up residence when their sentence is complete.

  12. - Ghost - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:29 pm:

    They need to count them in the prison.

    Those small communties not only have to maintain the infrastructure to keep the inmates they have to pay for all the free newspaper publications for divorces etc related to legal issues of the inmates in addition the the resoruces and infrasturcture mentioned.

    Also there is no guarnatee they will go back to their home towns when released. This would be like letting me count anyone whop used to live in a town as local population until they had been gone 10 years.

  13. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:32 pm:

    Thanks, Responsa. Apparently, I haven’t yet had enough caffeine today. Fixed.

  14. - Downstate Illinois - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:35 pm:

    The census doesn’t ask where you lived for the past 10 years. It asks where you live on Census Day, which last year was April 1, 2010. If you’re in prison that day, that’s where you reside.

    Students are counted at in their dorms, soldiers are counted on their base, prisoners are counted where they sleep.

    Ford is being intellectually dishonest which isn’t surprising for a pol from Chicago. After all, that’s there the dead vote, ghosts get paid and non-resident DC-based chiefs of staff can run for mayor.

  15. - Responsa - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:41 pm:

    From its inception the census has been an attempt to count citizens where they are then. Students away at colleges for six months or more per year are considered residents of their campuses and are sent census forms at their school addresses. Most of the students will likely graduate and leave that location before the next census. Why should incarcerated citizens be counted any differently? Count them in prison. Double counting and other unforeseen complications would likely ensue should Ford’s idea be adopted.

  16. - Plutocrat03 - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:44 pm:

    Seems to be that you are, where you are at the time the census snapshot is taken.

    I can see the political benefits of associating a prisoner with a home town, but it seems to be a bit Orwellian to say that prisoners who are in one place are in fact in another place.

  17. - Cincinnatus - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:45 pm:

    As wordslinger notes, the census is a snapshot in time. We cannot have census workers making either or decisions, nto just because of the difficulties and possible resultant errors, but to eliminate this as a possible cause of fraud, or cause for lawsuits questioning the census veracity. There is also the issue of costs. The census is already controversial enough, let’s not add to its misery.

  18. - Responsa - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:46 pm:

    I dunno Rich, when I refresh I’m still geting the messed up questionaire.

  19. - MikeMacD - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:47 pm:

    The bill seems to be only applicable to election districts and redistricting and does not address any sort of funding calculations. Am I missing something?

  20. - Cincinnatus - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:48 pm:

    - Responsa - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:46 pm:

    “I dunno Rich, when I refresh I’m still geting the messed up questionnaire.”

    Cache dump?

  21. - Newsclown - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:48 pm:

    I think it makes sense to count the short-timers as living in he place where they resided before prison, because most inmates wind up back “home” after release, to the place they were from before they got arrested. Any family they have is still there, not at the prison location, as well. And programs to support their re-integration need to be based not in the prison neighborhood, but in the towns where these felons go back to live.

  22. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:48 pm:

    Yeah, cache dump. It worked for me when i refreshed.

  23. - Ray del Camino - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:52 pm:

    What Word said.

    The Census is a snapshot in time, and that’s where the prisoner lives on Census Day. And that’s where the toilet flushes and the roads get paved to bring his grub and his visitors. Easy call.

  24. - Carl Nyberg - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 12:53 pm:

    Maybe Rep. Ford is a little off base.

    Why shouldn’t people in the criminal justice system be allowed to vote?

    Give prisoners the right to vote and then see if those communities want the prisoners to be citizens of the local community or vote absentee where they are from.

  25. - MikeMacD - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 1:00 pm:

    “We cannot have census workers making either or decisions…”

    The bill would not effect census workers who are of course federal employees but rather require the SOS to gather information from the relevant institutions and reapportion the counts to election districts.

  26. - piling on - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 1:06 pm:


  27. - dupage dan - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 1:15 pm:

    I could see maybe they can be counted in their “home town” while awaiting trial. Even that can be problematic since some folks wait years for their trials.

    If you are residing someplace that’s where you get counted. If you have been sentenced to prison for at least a year, haven’t you moved? The tax benefits should be where the person is.

  28. - Anon. E. Moose - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 1:16 pm:

    Because a census is a “snapshot,” as a couple of commenters have already said, all prisoners should be counted as living where they are imprisoned. Although wise guys may refer to prison as “college,” that sort of college is different from the exception carved out by census takers for students living in a college dorm on Census Day but who are still considered to reside with their parents. At least the kids can come home on a weekend without anyone loosing the bloodhounds.

  29. - Bigtwich - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 1:21 pm:

    I doubt the Illinois Legislature can do anything about controlling the operation of the US Census or the distribution of Federal money based on the census. The probably can redistribute the prison population count for legislative districts and distribution of State money, of course they have to pay for doing that. Maryland has just done something like that and is the first State in the Union to do so. I think this bill is supposed to affect the next redistricting, not the current one. t would be best to wait a few years and see how this works for Maryland.

  30. - Robert - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 1:21 pm:

    I voted prison-location. agree with Ray. also I think it’ll take state staff time to go through paperwork to figure out hometowns, and that doesn’t seem a good use of tight state dollars.

  31. - Bigtwich - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 1:22 pm:

    Of course we could try building prisons in urban areas. See how that works.

  32. - ZC - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 1:24 pm:

    MrJM’s point stands, however.

    College students come and go but they constitute an ongoing community of interest, wherever they are located, and whoever represents that college area, will have an incentive to be responsive to the needs of that local community: better traffic signs, local safety, school construction, tuition, etc.

    Having representatives gain census population from an inmate population, means those reps have a natural selfish incentive to punish -their own constituents- : to push for more “three strikes you’re out laws,” more incarceration, more strict punishments and longer maximum-minimums. In other words, to do everything in their power so that some of their current “constituents” are not represented.

    Comparing the representation of college students to prisoners, at a technical level, makes sense; however, the incentives and the quality of the actual “representation” taking place, are worlds apart.

  33. - nothing's easy - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 1:24 pm:

    I’m not sure how to vote. If I vote yes then I think they should be counted in their prison or their hometown. If I vote no I believe they should not be counted in either location? Am I missing something?

  34. - 3 beers to Springfield - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 1:29 pm:

    Dealt with an interesting issue in reverse a few years ago. CDAP assistance for water and sewer systems is based on poplulation. The population of a small tourist town swelled on weekends and nearly the entire summer, but CDAP only considers “permanent” residents. Even though this town was supporting ten times its permanent population a large part of the year, it was only eligible for funding based on resident population.

  35. - Fed up - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 1:50 pm:

    I have to prison location. I have moved since the last census yet I am stil counted for where I was living when the census form was mailed in.

  36. - Mike Huntoon - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 1:51 pm:

    while I have great respect for Rep Ford, he’s off base on this issue - the cities who house prisoners and provide the prison with basic municipal services clearly deserve the right to count that facility’s inmates among their resident population.

  37. - Cincinnatus - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 2:06 pm:

    Actually, if you think about this a second, it is only the prisoners who remain in custody over ten years that make any statistical difference. The “transient” population is continually moving out, back home or wherever. Similarly, there is a population moving away from their homes into the prison. The prison population remains fairly constant, constrained by the available housing.

    So, during any one census period, some people will move out, and some will move in. Since the crime demographics can also be assumed to be fairly consistent over time (that is as a percentage of overall crime, Chicago will contribute approximately the same number of inmates from year to year), the overall impact of trying to capture the prisoners at home or in the prison itself would probably roughly cancel out, and it really doesn’t matter where you count them!

    So, is it really worth the money to try to differentiate the small amount of discrepancy from census to census?

  38. - jerry 101 - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 2:47 pm:

    The census should count them as living where the prison is located. The census taker should also note the community in which the individual lived before being sent to prison.

    Any Federal or State funds should be apportioned based on that data - why should a little county get extra highway funds because they have a bunch of prisoners who never use the highways? The community can get extra money to cover certain costs inherent in having a prison, but they already get the big benefit from the prison - all the jobs.

    There’s plenty of money that should be allocated to the communities where the prisoners came from - such money may help reduce crime over the long run if put into early childhood education, recidivism reduction programs, anti-drug and anti-crime programs, more police, etc.

    The current way funds are apportioned due to prison populations is one of the many ways that cities get fleeced by underpopulated regions, and is fundamentally unfair. In addition, since prisoners can’t vote, perhaps they shouldn’t be counted for the purposes of allocating legislative seats. Or, better yet, maybe prisoners should have the franchise. They’re still citizens, and they should have the rights afforded to such.

  39. - JellyBean - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 2:49 pm:

    College students are counted in the community where their school is located because of the expenses involved with the school being in the community, why would prisoners be any different?

  40. - imho - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 3:33 pm:

    They basically evicted themselves from their hometowns by the virtue of committing a crime. The communities that house the inmates bear the brunt of the risk of the population, they should then benefit. Why would we want a community that has produced a felon to be rewarded with additional tax dollars?

  41. - 47th Ward - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 3:34 pm:

    Rep. Ford isn’t suggesting one of the reasons Chicago’s population declined by 200,000 is because a lot of Chicagoans went to prison, is he?

    Count them where they’re at on census day.

  42. - Spliff - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 4:28 pm:

    In committee it was brought up that inmates self report their “home” addresses and that there is no way to know where sure they were living prior to incarceration. Since that is the case how on earth could we count them anywhere other than the prison in which they are housed at the time of the census.

  43. - ZC - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 5:25 pm:


    Representation is a bigger concept than just allocating out federal and state budget allotments (we’re talking a lot about the costs, which is fine, but the original question Rich posed is clearly broader than that).

    If politics were just a question of allocating money, then we could do away with representation altogether - we’d just put everything into block formulae, based on Census counts. Who needs elected officials?

    When you look at it that way, the difference becomes clearer. The difference is the college students actually have representatives. The inmates downstate have anti-representatives (in that they have representatives who, no matter how admirable they are as individuals, still have a corrupting incentive to keep them locked up for as long as possible).

    I don’t dispute the fact that they are felons (or nearly all of them - of course some of them are innocent). But what bothers the liberals on this front is that they remain U.S. citizens. You can temporarily lose your right to vote in Illinois. I don’t believe, under the IL or U.S. Constitution, you should lose all right to any effective representation - especially since, to reiterate, the criminal justice system will always be imperfect, and some of the current inhabitants of Big Muddy and Centralia didn’t do anything illegal.

  44. - reformer - Wednesday, Mar 30, 11 @ 5:42 pm:

    Some counties with prisons don’t count the prisoners when drawing county board districts. If they did, then a given commissioner with a prison in his district might primarily represent people who can’t vote for or against him and for whom he can’t provide service.

  45. - Not It - Thursday, Mar 31, 11 @ 12:08 am:

    A prison is where someone is. You count them where they are. They aren’t taking up resources in their home so Rep. Ford’s argument is moot.

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