Northampton Massachusetts -- (July 6) The Prison Policy Initiative, an organization that conducts research and advocacy on incarceration policy, today released the first analysis of how Census Bureau's method of counting incarcerated people reduces the population of Ohio's urban areas.
A little known quirk in the Census counts people in prison as if they were residents of the prison town. "This inflates the population of rural prison hosting areas, and shortchanges the urban areas most prisoners come from" said report co-author Rose Heyer. Ohio's prison population more than tripled from 1980 to 2000.
"The report demonstrates that criminal justice policy doesn't just affect people convicted of crimes and the people who personally know them. The Census Bureau's current policies coupled with high incarceration and the frequent decision to build prisons in remote places impact vast numbers of citizens and produce results which fly in the face of democratic principles such as 'one person, one vote.'" said Jana Schroeder, Director of the American Friends Service Committee's Ohio Criminal Justice Program based in Dayton.
Most of Ohio's prisoners come from the major cities, but the bulk of the prisons are in outlying areas. Cuyahoga County loses more than 10,000 people and Hamilton County more than 5,000 people, says the report which combines Census and state corrections data.
"It's ironic to learn that Montgomery County loses population to other counties through the export of convicted felons to prisons in other parts of Ohio. When Dayton Correctional and Montgomery Education and Pre-Release Center were being sold to our community, a big argument was that these facilities would keep prisoners close to home. No one has before documented that we are, in fact, losing more prisoners than we're keeping" said the AFSC's Schroeder.
Changing the numbers changes how democracy works. "Miscounting prisoners changes the way that state legislative districts are drawn," said report co-author Peter Wagner. "This census policy creates an inaccurate picture of our communities, and state legislatures that rely on Census data likely violate the constitutional principle of one person one vote."
The report identifies one district, House District 85 in Ross, Pickaway and Fayette counties, represented by John Schlichter that is 8.92% prisoners. Prisoners can't vote in Ohio, and on their release they will be returning to their home communities, but their presence at the prison town in the Census dilutes the votes of their family members back home. Says Wagner: "Every group of 91 residents in District 85 gets as much of a say over state affairs as 100 people in Columbus or Cleveland. The Supreme Court's 'One Person One Vote' rule was supposed to eliminate such large difference in voting power."
The report, Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in Ohio, is part of a national series of studies funded by the Open Society Institute's Soros Justice Fellowship Program in New York City. Report co-author Peter Wagner is Soros Justice Fellow leading a national effort to change how the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people.
The Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) conducts research and advocacy on incarceration policy. Its work starts with the idea that the racial, gender and economic disparities between the prison population and the larger society represent the grounds for a democratic catastrophe. PPI's concept of prison reform is based not only in opposition to a rising rate of incarceration, but in the search for a lasting solution to pressing social problems superior to temporarily warehousing our citizens in prisons and jails.
The Prison Policy Initiative is based in Northampton, Massachusetts. For more information about PPI or prison policy in general, visit http://www.prisonpolicy.org.
Peter Wagner, Assistant Director
Prison Policy Initiative
P.O. Box 127
Northampton, MA 01061