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Census counts of prisoners shift population in California

by Peter Wagner, March 15, 2004

Los Angeles California and its population and prisoner contributions and prison cell locations

Los Angeles County is 28% of the state of California, but it supplies 34% of the state’s prisoners. The political effect of this disproportionate incarceration is magnified by the fact that the Census Bureau counts prisoners where they are incarcerated, not where they are from. Few prisoners are incarcerated in Los Angeles County — the county contains only 3% of the California’s state prison cells.

The situation is reversed in prison-hosting regions like Kings County, a 3 hour drive to the north. Kings County’s reported population of 129,461 is greatly inflated by the inclusion as local residents of 17,262 state prisoners. This small county has 0.89% of California’s land mass and 0.33% of California’s non-incarcerated residents, yet it contains 12% of the state’s prisoners.

In order to accurately reflect our communities, the Census Bureau should update its methodology to count prisoners where they voluntarily reside: at home.

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