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Census bungles prison populations

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The way legislative and congressional lines are drawn is almost completely dependent on the decennial census. But there are flaws in the census.

Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative has asked the Census Bureau to change how it counts prisoners.

Prisoners are counted in the county where they are housed, often boosting the population of rural counties, even though prisoners cannot vote and will presumably return to their home counties when they get out.

"It's one of the things that makes it harder to get rid of prisons," Wagner said.

According to the Prison Policy Initiative, about 2.3 percent of the population of Clearwater County resides at the prison in Orofino, thus skewing the population of District 8. And nearly 7 percent of District 21, which includes the prison complex south of Boise, is incarcerated.

This also disenfranchises the communities where prisoners really hail from, giving a percentage of their vote to the prison community instead. In fact, Idaho prisoners housed in Texas and Oklahoma are counted in Texas and Oklahoma legislative districts.

"The census can change how they count prisoners," Wagner said. "They are ignoring it."

—Nathaniel Hoffman