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County of conviction and prisoner residence

by Peter Wagner, October 20, 2003

Much of the research on this website uses county-of-conviction as a proxy for a prisoner’s home residence because this data is more frequently available. Although most Departments of Correction gather residence data, they frequently only publish county-of-conviction data.

The general equivalency of the county of conviction and residence datasets can be proven in North Carolina, where the Department of Corrections publishes both sets of information. Analysis shows that the two figures are substantially the same, other than a small number (5%) of prisoners with an out-of-state residence.

Although correcting the Census dataset for redistricting purposes will require the precise address information in the residence files, county-of-conviction data is sufficient to show the necessity of abandoning the Census’s usual residence rule: In most states, prisoners are convicted in a small number of urban counties and incarcerated — where the Census currently counts them — in other counties.

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