Are prisoners Youngstown residents?
On the side
Possible candidate: Donald K. Allen, a veterinarian who ran in the 2010 Republican primary for the 6th Congressional District seat, is giving serious consideration to seeking the GOP nomination in the 2014 primary.
Bill Johnson won the 2010 Republican primary and went on to defeat incumbent U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson in the general election. But Johnson’s victory in the primary — the first time he ran for public office — was a close one. Johnson beat Allen by 5.12 percentage points in a three-man race that included Richard Stobbs.
Allen said he opposes the two-party system and knows Republican Party officials in the 18-county 6th District will support Johnson of Marietta, who would be seeking his third two-year term next year. Allen said he’d run as a Republican because he would have no chance of winning the seat as an independent.
In 2012, Republicans redistricted the 6th removing Boardman, Allen’s place of residence, from the district. You don’t have to live in the district to hold the seat. Johnson didn’t when he ran in 2010.
About one in every 20 people who the U.S. Census Bureau counts as Youngstown residents “live” in three locations.
None of them is pleasant: the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center private prison, the Ohio State Penitentiary (also known as the Supermax), and the Mahoning County jail.
Of the 66,982 counted as residents in the 2010 census, 3,050 are incarcerated at those three facilities.
The census considers prisoners to be residents of where they are incarcerated, even though except for some at the county jail, none of them can vote, and members of council don’t really represent them.
Consider the 1,500 or so of the 2,071 inmates at the NEOCC who are illegal immigrants convicted of felonies.
When officials with the Prison Policy Initiative read in The Vindicator about Youngstown City Council redistricting the seven wards to make each more equitable, they pointed out that counting inmates doesn’t really balance the populations in the wards.
It’s perfectly legal to count prisoners when redistricting, and in Ohio, only Lima excludes inmates.
The initiative is a think tank critical of counting prisoners as residents of the community in which they’re incarcerated.
Council hasn’t bothered to redistrict in 30 years so the existing populations of the wards are already seriously unbalanced and quite likely unconstitutional.
Council is working to resolve that, and have the new boundaries in place well before the next council election in 2015. But the initiative’s concern certainly merits serious discussion.
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 the institute’s recommendation should be considered.
“I’ll give them that option without prisoners,” he said. “In the end, it’s their decision and one they’ll have to answer to. It’s a valid choice.”
Finnerty’s proposed redistricting moves the private prison to the East Side’s 2nd Ward and keeps the Supermax there because so few people live in that part of the city.
But it also means 27.3 percent of the proposed 2nd Ward’s population are heavy-duty felons.
“Three residents who live near the prison would have more say in local government than four people living anywhere else,” said Leah Sakala, policy analyst for Prison Policy Initiative.
The 2nd Ward takes in about 25 percent to 30 percent of the city’s land, but is currently the second-least populous ward. The sparsely-populated 2nd would get larger if council agrees to remove prisoners when dividing the wards by population.
“Area is meaningless,” Finnerty said about redistricting, adding that some members of council are having trouble accepting that.
The most vocal opponent on council to the initiative’s recommendation is Annie Gillam, D-1st, who previously stated she doesn’t like Finnerty’s proposed map that takes the private prison and her home and moves them to the 2nd Ward.
Prisoners are residents of the city, Gillam said, even though they can’t vote.
She also points out that the 1st Ward includes the downtown business area and Youngstown State University, and she represents that area even though most downtown workers, YSU employees and students don’t live there.
“That swells my population,” Gillam said.