Localities with prisons gain political clout as inmates are counted as local residents for purposes of government grant money and legislative districting. Big-city congressmen, whose districts typically lose in the deal, have told the Census Bureau to think about changing the arrangement, reports the Associated Press. Such a switch would create a mass migration of more than a million people, at least on paper. The lawmakers want inmates counted as residents of their home towns and cities in the 2010 Census. Many rural areas, where most prisons are located, would lose big chunks of population. Some cities would gain a lot of new “residents.” “I believe this is essentially an issue of fairness,” says Rep. Jose Serrano, a Democrat from the Bronx. “Because federal dollars are distributed based on population, prisoners should be counted in their last known permanent residences where they are most likely to return to upon release.” New York City would gain about 36,000 residents if it could reclaim all its inmates in upstate prisons.
Prison communities don’t like the idea, arguing that they deserve benefits for housing criminals from other areas. “We get the stigma of having these facilities,” said Christopher Bromson, town manager of Enfield, Ct., home to three state prisons. “We get all of the ill effects of it, and now to take away the one positive. That, I think, is grossly unfair.” Late last year Congress required the Census Bureau to study the issue. A report is due in late February. At issue is the Census Bureau’s residency rules, which would require another act of Congress to change. The bureau defines a person’s “usual residence” as the place where they sleep most nights.