Detention centers don’t bring funding to towns

by Aleks Kajstura, June 4, 2010  

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published my letter to the editor correcting a recent AP story that claimed towns stood to gain funding by having detention centers within their borders.

“Detained immigrants may help bring in census money” (ajc.com, May 31) repeats a common mistake. The article claims towns that host detention facilities could receive a financial boost as a result of the Census Bureau counting the detainees as town residents. Actually, most federal funding is block grants to states, not towns.

Why does it matter where detainees and other prisoners are counted? Because census data is used to draw legislative districts. Districts with prisons and detention centers pad out their populations and dilute the political clout of every single other person who does not have a prison in their district. Counting incarcerated people as if they were residents of the facility harms democracy.

States can use the census’ early release of prison population data to fix this redistricting problem. Any such fix will not affect funding.

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