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A short primer on the types of correctional facilities in Oklahoma to guide the development of state-based solutions to the Census Bureau’s prison miscount

By Peter Wagner and Elena Lavarreda
September 21, 2009

This report was a brief introduction to the problem of prison-based gerrymandering in Oklahoma, so we treated all types of correctional facilities the same way, but a state-based remedy may wish to treat some types of facilities differently. Because Oklahoma has a very short redistricting schedule, the state should not leave this discussion for last. As the first step in a reform proposal, the state should identify which populations it wishes to adjust in the redistricting data and how it wishes to do so. What follows summarizes some of the types of facilities in Oklahoma and some arguments on how they differ in terms of residence.

State prisons: These hold people convicted in state courts of what are typically felonies and where the sentence to be served is at least a year. (Average sentence is probably less than 3 years.) By state law, people in state prison cannot vote. Almost all of the people incarcerated in state prisons can be assumed to be legal residents of Oklahoma. Ideally, these people would be counted as residents of their home communities.

Federal prisons: These facilities are owned and operated by the federal government and confine people convicted of federal offenses anywhere in the United States. The majority of the people incarcerated in these facilities would therefore be residents of other states. By state law, people incarcerated in federal prison cannot vote in Oklahoma. Deleting these populations from the data used for districting would produce approximately the same result at significantly less expense than determining their correct residences in other states.

Private prisons in Oklahoma that hold only people under the jurisdiction of other states: Currently, the Diamondback, Great Plains and North Fork facilities are privately owned and operated facilities that confine people from other states. It would be reasonable to assume that virtually none of the people confined there are residents of Oklahoma, and the facilities could be treated for redistricting purposes the same as the federal facilities.

Private prisons that hold state prisoners: These privately owned and operated facilities confine people in Oklahoma under contract with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. Currently, this is the Cimarron, Davis and Lawton facilities. Unless these facilities separately also confine people under contract with other jurisdictions, it would make sense to treat these facilities exactly like state correctional facilities because the people incarcerated there are being held for the same reasons.

Community Work Centers, Community Corrections Centers and state-contracted Halfway Houses: These are lower security facilities operated by the state or under contract with the state. Because the people incarcerated there are under the same state jurisdiction, it makes sense to treat these facilities the same as state prisons.

County and municipal jails and police lockups: County jails are intended to hold people who are not yet convicted but unable to make bail as well as people who are serving short sentences (typically misdemeanors and sentences under 1 year). In practice, however, due to shortages of cells at the state level, 1,229 state prisoners were incarcerated in county jails at year end 2006. Oklahoma should investigate the degree to which the Department of Corrections can access data for the prisoners under its jurisdiction who are “backed-up” in county jails and the estimated number of such individuals in April 2010. If this data is accessible, the state could consider counting state prisoners one way and local prisoners another. Alternatively, the state may discover that the "back up" patterns are such that the backed up populations are typically from the county where they actually reside. In that case, these "backed up" populations could be treated like other local jail populations.

Similarly, municipal jails and police lockups will typically hold people who have just been arrested and are awaiting processing in court. The majority of the people in municipal jails and police lockups will be held for just a few days at most.

Most of the local jail populations will not be serving sentences for felonies and will therefore be allowed to vote in Oklahoma with absentee ballots at their home addresses. Typically, the majority of the people in these facilities are incarcerated quite close to home. With the exception of large urban jails, these facilities tend to be very small and are likely to be located in the same legislative district as the incarcerated person’s residence.

Collecting home address information from county and municipal jails is made more difficult in contrast to state facilities in that each of these facilities will have their own local administration. Because most of the people confined in local facilities are incarcerated close to home, a strategy that did not require coordinating data collection with 77 counties and numerous municipalities would be significantly easier to administer without losing many benefits.

Juvenile facilities: Our review did not include juvenile facilities and the Census Bureau normally does not include facilities designed for the incarceration of people under the age of 18 in its correctional facility counts. (They are counted in a separate category.) As the number of such facilities is small, and children incarcerated in adult facilities would be counted as a part of the adult correctional facility, juvenile facilities can likely be ignored in any adjustment procedure.

Separate from the above list of types of correctional facilities, the state should be aware of two potential difficulties matching correctional data with Census Bureau counts:

Unidentified facilities: In our review of 2000 Census Summary File 1’s correctional counts, we found 148 Census blocks in Oklahoma that contained some type of correctional facility, and we were able to identify all but 11. The majority of these 11 blocks held very small populations and were likely police lockups or perhaps small facilities that were considered but are technically not halfway houses. Of course, the Census 2010 Summary File 1 will not be available when Oklahoma draws its legislative districts in early 2011, but the state may wish to examine the 2000 data for insights in to how to identify prisons in 2010. For example, a problem we discovered is that sometimes the Census Bureau counts a correctional facility in the wrong location. The Dick Conner Correctional Center was counted in the wrong block but in the right rural tract, so this facility would not have been too difficult to find in the redistricting data Census data, but in dense urban areas this can be a larger problem.

Facilities that cannot be found: Sometimes it may not be possible to find specific prisons in the Census data. In our review, we were unable to find the New Directions, Turley, Hollis, Mabel Bassett regular and minimum, and Oklahoma City facilities. Most of these facilities are small, and given the reorganization and renaming in process in 2000, the actual list may be a shorter. While it is possible that the Census Bureau missed these facilities, the more likely scenario is these facilities were counted in with another correctional facility, or the facility was counted as something other than a correctional facility in the same or neighboring census block.

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