A portrait of Peter Wagner.
Peter Wagner
Executive Director
I need your help. For 14 years, the Prison Policy Initiative has been at the forefront of the movement to keep the prison system from exerting undue influence on our electoral process. Our work has changed how our democracy works in 4 states and hundreds of local governments. We’ve even won at the Supreme Court, but our long-term viability depends on people like you investing in our work.

Can you stand up for democracy by joining our small network of donors today? You can make a one-time gift, or become a monthly donor.

I thank you for investing in our work for a more just tomorrow.
—Peter Wagner
... (read more)(read less)

Prison census count costs rural county money

by Peter Wagner, May 7, 2010  

Earlier this week, I wrote a blog entry critical of an Atlanta Journal Constitution article which implied that rural counties with prisons were benefiting from poverty aid intended for urban communities. I wrote about the reality of rural poverty and explained that poverty is calculated in such a way that prison populations do not affect the formulas.

I wrote that,in short, Calhoun County is not getting rich from the Census Bureau’s prison count.

WALB-TV, which covers that part of Georgia, repeated the same misunderstanding about poverty funding in its coverage, but brought out a little more detail about how the Census Bureau’s prison count directly costs the rural community funds:

WALB screenshot of Chairman Mike Stuart“Because of the number of people in the prison, we have a higher population which means we have to pay our probate judge, our superior court clerk, and all these people higher salaries based on the inmate population. And they (prisoners) don’t pay any taxes in Calhoun County. So citizens have to foot that bill,” says [county commission chairman Mike] Stuart.

That’s right. Calhoun has to pay its officials more because the prison population makes the county look more populous. Prison Policy Initiative’s Aleks Kajstura found the statutorily mandated salaries. The minimum salary for Probate Judges and Superior Court Clerks, and some other county officials is set by population. For example:

Population Minimum Salary
0-5,999 $29,832.20
6,000-11,889 $40,967.92
11,890-19,999 $46,408.38
20,000-28,999 $49,721.70
29,000-38,999 $53,035.03
39,000-49,999 $56,352.46
50,000-74,999 $63,164.60
75,000-99,999 $67,800.09
100,000-149,999 $72,434.13
150,000-199,999 $77,344.56
200,000-249,999 $84,458.82
250,000-299,999 $91,682.66
300,000-399,999 $101,207.60
400,000-499,999 $105,316.72
500,000 or more $109,425.84
(See Ga. Code Ann. § 15-6-88 and Ga. Code Ann. § 15-9-63 )

The prison population in Calhoun County pushes the county into the next pay bracket (with more than 6,000 population), thereby costing the county more than $11,000 a year in required payments to the Probate Judge, County Superior Court Clerk and other officials.

The lesson we should draw from this? 1) Rural prison counties aren’t getting rich from the Census Bureau’s prison miscount; 2) Fighting over illusory funding streams distracts from the much larger impact that counting prisoners in the wrong place has on the operation of our democracy.

And that funding distraction is regrettable, particularly since Calhoun County itself already adjusts the Census when redistricting the County, basing the districts on the number of actual residents; while the state of Georgia continues to cling to unadjusted Census data which ignores the home address of incarcerated people, and counts them as if they lived in prison.

One Response

  1. Amy says, 2 days, 3 hours after publication:

    Just another in the plethora of reasons to stop counting inmates as population where they are being housed. This has many different effects depending on where it is happening. I wonder how long it is going to be before they start doing this the ethical and morally correct way. Oh, I forgot, so little is done ethically when it comes to incarcerated US citizens.

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


  • 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.