The Political and Fiscal Consequences of the Enumeration of Prisoners by the U.S. Census Bureau

Client: Research on Prisoners
Faculty: Amy Ellen Schwartz and Peter Teitelbaum
Team: Lynn Decker, Ivy Pool
Year: 2006
The United States decennial census enumerates prisoners and other institutionalized persons in the facilities in which they are housed, as opposed to the communities where they regularly reside. The past several decades have seen dramatic growth in the U.S. prison population, with new facilities mainly in rural communities, while most prisoners come from urban areas. Advocates have called for a change in enumeration policy. The Capstone team sought to estimate the extent to which the current method of enumeration has a significant and meaningful impact on political representation and funding allocations. First, using census and corrections data from New York and Florida, the team calculated the relative representation of counties in the state legislature under different enumeration rules. Then, they analyzed the effects on fiscal transfers from federal and state to local governments, and the impact on funding distributions for one federal grant program that uses census data to determine allocations.