Monday, February 15, 2010
Should inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary be counted in the 2010 Census as residents of Walla Walla?
Absolutely. The fact is they do live in Walla Walla. While they don't leave the prison (unless they are shackled), the inmate population does have an impact on the city and the services it provides.
It's only fair - and logical - that inmates are counted as residents in the Census. Those numbers are then used by local governments to apply for state and federal grants.
In addition, the head count is used to determine the size of state legislative districts and federal congressional districts. The bigger the population the greater the clout in the Legislature and Congress.
So, it's hardly a surprise that there's a national political tug-of-war over whether inmates should be considered residents of the city or county in which they are incarcerated.
Most prisons in America are in rural areas while most of the convicted criminals who occupy those prisons come from urban areas.
Given that, big city interests want to be allowed to claim inmates as residents for purpose of the Census. Unfortunately, they now have the upper hand in this political tussle.
New federal policy allows states to decide whether to count inmates as residents of where they are (in prisons) or where they lived when they committed their crimes.
Census Director Robert Groves made the decision after weeks of discussion with Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., and with public interest and black groups, The Associated Press reported. They called it an important first step toward shifting federal resources and representation back to urban areas.
Really. It looks more like a naked grab for power - and money.
Prison inmates use water and sewer services. Products they use are dumped in the landfills. Police and fire services are used to protect them. When a crime occurs inside the prison walls, local police investigate those crimes. Many inmates have visitors, and those visitors also use local services.
The Census is supposed to be a physical count of the nation's population. It's where people live, not where they are from.
The urban members of Congress have used their political power to tilt the Census in their favor.
Washington state's lawmakers should take a stand for fairness and count inmates as, well, inmates and residents of the city or county where they are now living.