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Mississippi Attorney General: Census should change prison count

by Peter Wagner, November 12, 2009

County Supervisors in Wilkinson County, Mississippi faced a quandary after the last census. The Corrections Corporation of America had just opened a large private prison in the county, and, per its usual practice, the Census Bureau credited the population of the prison to the county.

Should the county draw a county legislative district where almost half of the population was incarcerated in the private prison? This would give the actual residents of the prison district almost twice as much influence over county affairs as residents of the other districts. They wrote to State Attorney General Mike Moore to seek his advice.

He replied:

Inmates under the jurisdiction of the Mississippi Department of Corrections … are not deemed “residents” of that county or locality, as incarceration cannot be viewed as a voluntary abandonment of residency in one locale in favor of residency in the facility or jail. For purposes of the Census, these individuals should have been counted in their actual place of residence. Such inmates should not be used in determining the population of county supervisor districts for redistricting purposes by virtue of their temporary presence in a detention facility or jail in the county, unless their actual place of residence is also in the county.

(Emphasis added. Opinion No. 2002-0060; 2002 WL 321998 (Miss. A.G.))

The Attorney General is right. Until the Census Bureau changes where it counts incarcerated people, the people who draw districts need to correct the Census.

Hat tip: Thanks to Anastasia Albright for reminding me of this opinion.

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