A portrait of Peter Wagner.
Peter Wagner
Executive Director
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—Peter Wagner
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Pennsylvania allays one side effect of Census Bureau’s prison count

by Leah Sakala, July 6, 2012  

Remember how the Census Bureau’s prison count was causing problems for the recycling system in Kelly, Pennsylvania? Last week, the Pennsylvania Legislature came to the rescue.

Because the Census Bureau included the people incarcerated in the large federal prison in the town’s official population, Kelly was suddenly responsible for implementing a curbside recycling system required for all municipalities with more than 5,000 people, even though the number of actual residents (and therefore recyclables) was far below the mandate threshold. What’s more, the federal prison’s recycling system is entirely independent from that of the town.

Fortunately, last week the Governor signed House Bill 1934, which amends the state recycling mandate to exclude the populations of federal and state facilities that have their own recycling systems for the purposes of determining which municipalities are big enough to be covered by the mandate. I’ve been tracking this legislation since it was introduced last year, and was pleased when it passed both houses unanimously before being signed into law.

As bill sponsor Rep. Fred Keller pointed out in March, his legislation is a logical solution to a bigger problem:

According to the census, nearly one-third of Kelly Township’s population currently resides at the Federal Correctional Institute […] Consequently, Kelly Township, while being required to implement a population-based state recycling program, is strictly prohibited from collecting recycling from the prison. House Bill 1934 is a commonsense attempt to minimize the unnecessary duplication of waste management efforts and costs.

Although the new law will let Pennsylvania towns with big prisons off the hook as far as recycling is concerned, the Census Bureau’s practice of counting incarcerated people as if they were members of the communities that contain prisons gives rise to a whole host of problems. Now that planning for the 2020 census is already underway, it’s time for the Census Bureau to plan ahead to count incarcerated people at home next time.

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