| News |

Census problem: Are Colorado prisoners rural residents or urban visitors?

Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

The 2010 census gives states a new option for how to count their prison population, a move that could provide additional political leverage to urban areas -- which, in Colorado, means more power to the Front Range and less to places like Fremont, Logan and Crowley counties.

In the past, the U.S. Census Bureau tended to count people housed in "group quarters" (like felons) as residents of that area, even though some states don't consider a prison cell a residence. That gave some sparsely populated areas more legislative representation and political clout than they would have otherwise.

In Colorado, which has numerous state prisons and private hoosegows sited in far-flung corners of the state, that means places like Canon City (6,000 inmates in nine state prisons, plus thousands more in the four-prison federal complex), Ordway (3,000 inmates in two prisons) and Sterling (2,500 inmates) have had a notable boost in their census counts.

But the Bureau recently announced that it's going to release prison data earlier, allowing states more flexibility in how they decide to count their felons. The move is being hailed by inner-city advocacy groups, who argue their communities are being shortchanged in the count, which affects redistricting issues and federal aid allocation.

According to Colorado Department of Corrections data, nearly two-thirds of the state's 23,000 inmates hail from five urban counties -- Denver, Adams, Jefferson, Arapahoe and El Paso. (Throw Pueblo, Boulder and Fort Collins into the mix, and it's closer to 75 percent of the total population.) Counting them according to the place they got arrested could provide one less incentive for struggling rural communities to embrace the private prison industry while further tilting Colorado's urban-rural political battles in favor of the most populous counties.

But will it make the cities involved any more inclined to welcome "their" prisoners back when they're released? Don't count on it.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.


Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.