By David Skolnick
A think-tank organization critical of counting prisoners as residents of the community in which they’re incarcerated is urging city council to remove inmates from the count as it works to redistrict the seven wards to make population of each equitable.
“In order to draw fair districts that contain equal numbers of Youngstown residents, I urge you to use a different approach — for redistricting purposes, remove incarcerated populations from the data,” Leah Sakala, policy analyst for Prison Policy Initiative, based in Northampton, Mass., wrote to city officials after reading about council redrawing ward lines in The Vindicator.
The Census Bureau counts those in prisons in the population of the city in which the facilities are located even though they can’t vote, Sakala said.
The 2010 census reported 66,982 residents in Youngstown, including 3,050 people incarcerated at the time — or 4.6 percent of the city’s population.
2,071 at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, a private prison on the East Side in which 75 percent of its population are illegal immigrants convicted of federal felonies.
541 at the Ohio State Penitentiary, also on the East Side with nearly all its inmates being maximum-security prisoners.
438 at the Mahoning County jail, located downtown.
Thomas Finnerty, associate director of Youngstown State University’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies, who proposed ward maps based on census numbers to city officials, said not counting inmates is “an option they should consider. It’s a valid choice.”
About 200 cities nationwide remove the prison population when drawing ward lines, but Lima is the only one in Ohio, Sakala said.
Currently, the Youngs-town’s ward population ranges from 7,117 in the South Side’s 6th to 12,130 in the West Side’s 4th.
Finnerty’s proposal, given to council July 31, makes each ward’s population close to 9,569, the city’s 2010 population divided by seven wards.
With the city’s nonincarcerated population at 63,932, according to the 2010 census, each ward would have an average of 9,133 residents.
Finnerty’s proposed redistricting keeps the state penitentiary in the East Side’s 2nd Ward and moves NEOCC to there from the 1st Ward. Of the 9,561 residents in the 2nd under the proposed new map, 2,612 would be prisoners, 27.3 percent of its population.
Removing inmates from the population would require adding about 2,000 to 2,200 residents to the proposed new 2nd Ward. That can be done by moving more people to the 2nd, which is sparsely populated and landlocked on its north and east borders, from the proposed 3rd Ward on the North Side and the proposed 1st Ward, which includes downtown and would represent portions of the North and West sides, Finnerty said.
Any map wouldn’t take effect until the 2015 council election.
Councilman T.J. Rodgers, D-2nd, said, “I’m not necessarily opposed to it being redrawn to exclude prisoners from population, but I want to review the map first.”
Councilwoman Annie Gillam, D-1st, said she strongly opposes excluding inmates from the ward count, and already complained about the changes to her ward, which includes the relocation of the private prison and her home to the 2nd Ward.
Gillam’s term on council expires at the end of 2015 and she can’t run for re-election because of term limits, so she won’t be impacted by the new map. She also said her husband, Artis, who served for eight years before having to leave council because of term limits, “said he wouldn’t run.”
Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, and Paul Drennen, D-5th, support removing inmates from the ward-population count, saying it is a better way to have equal representation.