February 25, 2011- I recently read an informative article about Arizona's private prison industry and the impact upon communities by the way the political districts are drawn to allow small rural, communities with predominantly white populations to enjoy financial benefits of having large inmate populations counted in their census. This also allows small communities to appear to have populations that represent African-American and Hispanic ethnicities, where that representation is all behind bars.
The impact of all this is a drain of financial money away from the large urban areas of Arizona when those funds are redirected to the smaller rural communities. In addition this system allows for an increase of representation from those small communities, based on populations inflated by the inclusion of thousands of prisoners, many that come from other states as far away as Hawaii.
This Article in the Phoenix Magazine shines a light on how small, mostly conservative white communities receive their political and financial clout in Arizona. A sad fact of this is that many other states do the same thing. With almost 2.5 million of us in prisons today, redistricting based on the inclusion of inmate populations, enables rural prison communities to appear to have much larger and more diverse populations and to receive millions in state and federal tax dollars because of that. Former Arizona state Representative Pete Rios says it better than I:
"Today, the town (Florence) and its neighbor, Eloy, are Arizona’s major prison towns. There are two large state prisons and eight private prisons in the area that, together, house more than 24,000 prisoners. They are bused in from the Valley and throughout Arizona or imported from other states, including Hawaii and Alaska.
"Those prisoners aren’t really Eloy or Florence residents or constituents of Pinal County in any sense of the words. They can’t vote, and they may never step foot in the county beyond the prison walls. Most of them will be released in a few years and will return to homes elsewhere. But when the U.S. Census Bureau counted Arizona’s population last year, all those prisoners were counted as if Pinal County were home. That means millions of dollars in additional tax revenue sent from the state to governments in Pinal County. It also could mean a louder voice for local residents in state elections.
"This year Arizona and every other state will redraw political boundaries. The redistricting process is tedious but hugely important. It occurs every 10 years and guarantees the fundamental principle of “one person, one vote” in our representative democracy.
"But as that process kicks off, some experts are warning that the sheer abundance of prisoners in Pinal County and in large prisons throughout the state could impact the basic tenet of equal representation. How prisoners behind the walls are counted when Arizona redraws the lines could distort political power in the state, enhance the clout of the controversial private-prison industry and dilute the voice of Phoenix residents in state politics in favor of other areas with prison “residents” who aren’t really residents at all.
Peter Wagner, executive director of the Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative, which helped push recent reforms in New York, Maryland and Delaware, says:
"The impact of prisoners on Arizona’s political landscape could be among the most dramatic anywhere in the nation. “We have enough people in prison in this country and enough people in prison in Arizona to change how our democracy works, to change the decisions that the Legislature makes.”
This situation in Arizona is also replicated in many other states, coast to coast and represents another way in which prison inmates are used by Republicans to impact upon tax dollars and political issues and influence. With this kind of system used to falsely increase true populations of small, White communities that are predominantly conservative provides them with more tax dollars, representation and allows the larger urban cities to lose both in the process.
As this article reports, prisoners from large cities are sent to prison facilities in distant rural settings – far from where they lived and their families remain. Gerrymandering allows these prisoners to count toward tax subsidies – state and federal – in amounts disproportionate to their actual ethnic makeup and true population(s).
If nothing else this clearly demonstrates that the Conservatives have all issues involving prisoners, prison industries using those prisoners and private prisons mapped out. In Pinal County, Arizona, the largest employer is Corrections Corporation of American that operates no less than six private prisons in that county alone.