Pennsylvania recycling statute didn’t forsee Census prison miscount

Kelly, PA faces an expensive state recycling requirement due to Census miscounts.

by Leah Sakala, August 31, 2011

A recent Danville News article reports that the residents of Kelly township, Pennsylvania may be forced to shoulder an unfair burden.

Pennsylvania’s Act 101 of 1988 mandates a curbside recycling system for any municipality with a population of 5,000 or more and a population density of 300 people per square mile, or with a total population of more than 10,000. With only 3,717 residents living in the Kelly community, one would imagine that Kelly would be exempt from the expensive requirement.

But official U.S. Census Bureau figures report that Kelly has nearly 5,500 people.

Where can all those extra “residents” be found? Behind bars in the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. Not only might it be inefficient to institute a curbside system for the relatively small population of Kelly, but the township wouldn’t be allowed to collect recycling from the penitentiary even if they wanted to—the prison’s recycling system is run entirely by the federal government.

The article reports that the Pennsylvania law doesn’t include a provision that would allow municipalities like Kelly to avoid the requirement. Darwin Swope, Legislative Aide to Rep. Fred Keller (R-Kreamer), believes that the lack of flexibility in the recycling provision likely has a wider effect, saying, “I’m sure Kelly is not the only municipality in the state encountering this problem.”

Turns out, he’s exactly right.

We’ve identified two other Pennsylvania municipalities where the prison population requires them to create a recycling program they otherwise would not be required to start: Newport township and, as of the 2010 Census, Somerset township. Newport’s official population is inflated by the number of people incarcerated SCI Retreat, and the people incarcerated in SCI Somerset and SCI Laurel Highlands are all added to Somerset’s real population [1].

The Pennsylvania recycling statute was clearly designed to only take effect in communities of sufficient size and density where it makes economic and practical sense to mandate curbside recycling. Surely the statute’s drafters did not intend for it to apply to small municipalities that include large prisons with their own separate recycling systems. This unintended effect is just one more example of the consequences of counting incarcerated people in communities to which they do not belong.


[1] The fact that Somerset township only recently made our list may be surprising to the people who track prison expansion in Pennsylvania because the prisons there aren’t new. Even though two large prisons were located within Somerset’s boundaries during the last redistricting cycle in 2000, the total population reported by the Census was under 10,000 and the density was less than 300 people/square mile, and so the municipality was exempt from the requirement. Somerset would have had to comply with the curbside recycling mandate in 2000, however, had the Census Bureau not mistakenly counted the larger of the two prisons, SCI Somerset, in a different municipality.

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