WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Galesburg Wants Inmates Counted

Galesburg, IL – Galesburg's mayor is worried about new state legislation moving its way through the Illinois House. Under State Rep. LaShawn Ford's (D-Chicago) proposal, prison inmates would be counted in their home towns instead of where they're incarcerated.

Illinois HB4650 would not take effect until the 2020 census if signed into law, but some downstate lawmakers and city leaders such as Garza are already fearing significant population decreases.

Garza says the Henry Hill Correctional Center along U.S. Route 34 in Galesburg houses anywhere between 1,300 and 1,600 inmates. The city has already lost thousands of residents over the last decade due to a decrease in manufacturing jobs. He says additional hits could be devastating -- especially when it comes to census-dependent funding.

"Some of it could be for allocations, or general aid to local school systems," says Garza. "Even though that's based on student headcount, there's other determinations that go into that in terms of the numbers that are located in a certain area, or in a certain county."

Garza admits he sees both sides to the argument. He acknowledges that prison inmates don't pay local taxes, don't send their children to local schools and don't use local infrastructure. However, he questions why it's fair to count the prisoners in their home towns. He says they're not currently supporting those communities, either.

"These folks may move back to that community, but in the same light, there's no guarantee that these inmates will end up residing in those communities," says Garza.

Garza says the U.S. Census is supposed to be a snapshot of who lives in an area at the time of the count. This year's snapshot will include 1,300 to 1,600 Henry Hill inmates in Galesburg. Garza says it's only fair to indicate that those inmates are living in his city, not their home towns.