NEW YORK - February 23 - Yesterday, the U.S. Census Bureau released a study on the feasibility of counting people in prison at their permanent homes of record during the next Census. Although mandated by Congress to study “using prisoners’ permanent homes of record, as opposed to their incarceration sites, when determining their residences,” criminal justice enumeration experts say that the Census report barely scratches the surface on methods and options for achieving this goal.
“The report shows either short shrift in a work product, or a shocking lack of creativity and vision,” said Michael Waldman, Executive Director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “The Census Bureau capably solves complicated data collection problems everyday, yet throws in the towel before even entering the ring on the accurate counting of millions of people.”
In Tabulating Prisoners at Their “Permanent Home of Record” Address, the Bureau focuses primarily on the most burdensome and expensive way to collect information: interviewing each person in prison or jail on Census Day. This method, the agency concludes, would be too costly some $250 million in 2010. At a cost of about $100 per person in prison, this cost is almost twice as much as the $56 the Bureau expects to spend enumerating each U.S. household in 2010.
Criminal justice experts say, however, that this presents an incomplete and misleadingly negative picture. “There are several ways to identify ‘home’ addresses and use them at census time,” said Kirsten D. Levingston, Director of the Criminal Justice Program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. “The Bureau’s report does not evaluate the feasibility or cost of those other options, and completely fails to address the importance of accuracy in this area.”
A recent report by the Criminal Justice Program analyzes how critical solving this problem is to census accuracy, and identifies four options for conducting a more accurate count. The report, Home in 2010: A Report on the Feasibility of Enumerating People in Prison at their Home Addresses in the Next Census, evaluates several options: using existing records, distributing census forms to people in prison, interviewing people whose forms are incomplete or illegible, and enumerating people at the prison if they do not have a home address.
“This study is a start, but Congress and the American people need real information in order to make the best decisions for communities across the nation,” Levingston said. “This level of inaccuracy in the Census may have been good enough in the past; but with over 2 million of our nation’s population now behind bars, it’s no longer acceptable. The Bureau must find a way to produce fair and accurate information about this population.”