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Counting prisoners as prison-town residents leads to “misleading” conclusions about growth

by Peter Wagner, August 4, 2003  

As the following two letters to the editor show, counting prisoners as residents of the prison town can present an image of rapid growth or tumultuous decline, when in fact nothing has really changed:

Dear Editor, Youngstown Vindicator According to your recent article “Valleys are still losing people” almost half of the population lost in Mahoning County since Census 2000 is “misleading and explainable” due to the closure of a private prison in Youngstown. The purpose of the census is to count residents in each community, so those prisoners should never have been counted at the prison in the first place. When a community reports a large decline in population, it looks unattractive for potential development. The Census could protect our communities from artificial swings in population if they counted prisoners at home and not in temporary prisons. Peter Wagner, Prison Reform Advocacy Center Cincinnati, OH July 16, 2003

Dear Editor, Birmingham NewsYour article “Brent is booming, behind iron bars” (July 18) reports all of the town’s reported population increase was the result of an increase in the prison population at the Bibb County Correctional Facility. Alabama’s second fastest growing town is, well, not actually growing. According to the Alabama Department of Corrections, only a few of the prisoners at the Bibb County prison are from Bibb County. But the 1,800 prisoners are more than 8% of the county’s population. The purpose of the Census is to reflect the size, strengths and needs of our communities. It would make more sense for the Census to count prisoners at home rather than pretend they lived as permanent residents of the prison town. Peter Wagner, Cincinnati OH July 18, 2003