US Census data of prison populations in Washington State distorts drawing of Legislative District and Congressional boundaries, just like in New York State. A review of data from the Washington State Dept. of Corrections website shows a wide variation from the county in which prisoners were convicted and which county they ultimately were incarcerated in. See Report at Dept of Corrections Budget Research Table 2F facility Report Offender Characteristics, Population Movement and Custody FY 2006 as of 9/30/2005.
Assuming most prisoners resided in the county in which they were convicted, the distortion of census data is significant.
For example Walla Walla County convicted 186 people currently in prison , but Walla Walla has the Washington State Penitentiary housing 1986 prisoners.
King County has 3,824 convicted prisoners but only 114 are listed by the Dept of Corrections as residing in the King County Jail on a permanent basis.
Clallam County convicted 146 people in the state prison system yet it houses 887 prisoners at Clallam Bay and another 357 at the Olympic Correctional Facility.
Why do variations like these matter? It turns out that prisoners can vote in only 2 of the 50 states. Prisoners are counted in the US Census for determining population which is used for determining legislative and Congressional boundaries. Our last blog mentioned the advantage that gave Republicans in NY. The issue has been raised elsewhere as well. Ohio is one place Another place is Texas. Why am I not surprised?
Asher Price writes in the Austin American Statesman how some people argue that where prisoners are counted as living robs urban cities of clout, money and services . See http://www.prisonpolicy.org/news/statesman11082004.shtml for the article by Price.
Congressional boundaries are drawn to create districts of approximately equal size and also to represent various communities without diluting their power. Prisoners taken from urban areas and shipped to more rural areas do not give their home communities and values the representation they should get. Basic constitutional issues are raised. A dilution of the concept of one person one vote occurs. How can one argue that a black person taken from the Seattle area and sent to Clallam County or Walla Walla are best represented by elected officials from these areas instead of where they resided before they were sent to prison?
Go to http://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports.shtml to get access to a variety of critical reports on the issues of where prisoners should be counted as living. This issue is one that Washington State needs to look at seriously. Washington State Dept of Corrections has over 17,000 prisoners residing in state facilities.