Prison expansion made 56 counties with declining populations appear to be growing in Census 2000

by Peter Wagner, April 26, 2004  

Counting incarcerated people as if they were residents of the prison town leads to misleading portrayals of which counties are growing and which are declining. Declining populations in a county are often a sign of economic distress. Census 2000 reported that 78% of counties experienced population growth during the 1990s. Yet 56 of these counties can attribute their growth only to prison expansion and not to children being born or new residents choosing to move to the county. Said another way, for each 50 counties labeled by the Census as growing during the 1990s, one of those counties actually saw a decline in their actual free population. (See map and table.)

Most of these counties with disguised declining populations have significant incarcerated populations. More than half have at least 1,000 people behind bars. Six of these counties were also featured in last week’s column Twenty one counties have twenty one percent of their population in prisons and jails. In some counties, the reported growth was slight, but in others, it appeared huge. Jones County Texas saw its Census population rise by 26%. During the 1990s, 355 residents of Jones County chose to pack up and leave the County. At the same time, the state of Texas sent 4,650 prisoners to be incarcerated there.

Incarceration has risen nationally over the last decade, but that’s not true everywhere. Frontier County Nebraska and Clay County Georgia would have reported small population increases had these counties’ populations not included a declining number of prisoners.

Map showing the 56 counties that the Census 2000 reported as growing only because greater numbers of prisoners were counted as residents during the 1990s

Census 2000 reported how many counties grew during the 1990s and how many declined. But if not for the construction of new prison cells, 56 counties labeled as growing would have reported declining populations or no growth at all.

County State Growth Reported in Census Actual Population Decline Percent of County population incarcerated Percent of County that is rural County is metro or non-metro county
Bullock County AL 672 86 11.93% 64.67% Nonmetro
St. Francis County AR 832 1,529 8.27% 51.29% Nonmetro
Hancock County GA 1,168 199 13.57% 59.77% Nonmetro
Telfair County GA 794 402 11.25% 57.27% Nonmetro
Ware County GA 12 459 4.20% 28.40% Nonmetro
Morgan County IL 219 162 2.87% 35.79% Nonmetro
Fulton County IL 170 860 5.16% 53.92% Nonmetro
Logan County IL 385 387 7.72% 41.45% Nonmetro
Edgar County IL 109 275 2.00% 52.42% Nonmetro
Christian County IL 954 243 3.45% 43.61% Nonmetro
Crawford County IL 988 248 6.05% 59.30% Nonmetro
Perry County IL 1,682 490 9.50% 55.69% Nonmetro
Page County IA 106 484 4.74% 34.55% Nonmetro
Norton County KS 6 229 11.66% 37.41% Nonmetro
Chase County KS 9 61 2.31% 100.00% Nonmetro
Muhlenberg County KY 521 360 2.90% 67.30% Nonmetro
Lee County KY 494 87 7.50% 100.00% Nonmetro
West Carroll Parish LA 221 336 4.70% 100.00% Nonmetro
Richland Parish LA 352 258 3.19% 64.04% Nonmetro
Winn Parish LA 625 400 9.05% 64.37% Nonmetro
Swift County MN 1,232 90 11.15% 47.57% Nonmetro
Sunflower County MS 1,502 432 13.65% 36.33% Nonmetro
Leflore County MS 606 539 3.30% 21.30% Nonmetro
Holmes County MS 5 43 0.30% 72.14% Nonmetro
Marion County MS 51 301 1.49% 69.40% Nonmetro
Wilkinson County MS 634 269 9.18% 100.00% Nonmetro
Nodaway County MO 203 314 2.45% 47.14% Nonmetro
Randolph County MO 293 61 7.42% 52.00% Nonmetro
Toole County MT 221 106 6.27% 42.57% Nonmetro
Genesee County NY 310 128 0.82% 59.72% Metro
Hyde County NC 415 142 9.89% 100.00% Nonmetro
Tyrrell County NC 293 130 10.29% 100.00% Nonmetro
Marion County OH 1,943 144 6.20% 31.07% Nonmetro
Blaine County OK 506 837 11.29% 61.16% Nonmetro
Caddo County OK 600 118 2.57% 80.70% Nonmetro
Beckham County OK 987 595 8.12% 30.71% Nonmetro
Wyoming County PA 4 7 0.19% 84.95% Metro
Somerset County PA 1,805 374 2.80% 74.77% Metro
Greene County PA 1,122 794 5.44% 68.19% Nonmetro
Bon Homme County SD 171 111 10.62% 100.00% Nonmetro
Lake County TN 825 405 26.57% 100.00% Nonmetro
Swisher County TX 245 337 7.04% 39.72% Nonmetro
Dickens County TX 191 284 17.27% 100.00% Nonmetro
Dawson County TX 636 1,530 14.60% 18.22% Nonmetro
Howard County TX 1,284 1,546 11.77% 21.79% Nonmetro
Mitchell County TX 1,682 835 26.13% 31.96% Nonmetro
Jones County TX 4,295 355 22.53% 60.89% Nonmetro
Concho County TX 922 59 32.75% 100.00% Nonmetro
DeWitt County TX 1,173 157 6.75% 52.27% Nonmetro
Karnes County TX 2,991 360 21.74% 38.42% Nonmetro
Duval County TX 202 305 3.92% 47.13% Nonmetro
Sussex County VA 2,256 100 19.24% 100.00% Nonmetro
Greensville County VA 2,707 320 26.19% 64.37% Nonmetro
Pocahontas County WV 123 91 2.41% 100.00% Nonmetro
Raleigh County WV 2,401 19 3.21% 40.75% Nonmetro
Weston County WY 126 18 2.92% 55.64% Nonmetro

Source: Rose Heyer and Peter Wagner, Too big to ignore: How counting people in prisons distorted Census 2000 and additional research by Rose Heyer and Peter Wagner.

Tweet this page Follow @PrisonPolicy on Twitter Get our newsletter Donate Contact Us


Events

  • September 21, 2016:
    Executive Director Peter Wagner will be speaking at Claremont McKenna College in California. Details TBA.

Not near you?
Invite us to your city, college or organization.