State prisoners boost Calhoun County's census numbers - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

State prisoners boost Calhoun County's census numbers

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By Cade Fowler - bio | email

MORGAN, GA (WALB) – A short drive along Highway 45 and you'll get the idea that agriculture is the way of life for many residents that call Calhoun County home.

Like many rural counties, its population is small. Just over 6,000 people live here.

What may come as a surprise is that a good portion of its residents all live under the same roof, behind bars at Calhoun State Prison in Morgan.  

"It's almost 25 % of our population, maybe more than that." says county commission chairman Mike Stuart.

This year the 2010 census will reflect prisoners as residents of Calhoun County, even though the 1,700 prisoners serving time here are from different parts of the state.

But the population boost equals more federal money. And this is good news in an area where nearly 1 in 4 lives below the poverty level.

"Prisoners add to our population count according to the information I've been given. And the census numbers brings dollars. So yes, that will bring more dollars to Calhoun County," says Stuart.

In a rural area with little industry, Calhoun State Prison is the county's largest employer with 260 positions currently filled.  

While this all may sound like a win-win situation, the prison here is not exactly cost free to county tax payers.

"Because of the number of people in the prison, we have a higher population which means we have to pay our probate judge, our superior court clerk, and all these people higher salaries based on the inmate population. And they (prisoners) don't pay any taxes in Calhoun County. So citizens have to foot that bill," says Stuart.

Plus, tax payers must pay for prisoner appeals which are filed through the local court system.  In the end, it's likely whatever federal money Calhoun County receives will even out what it's had to pay out.

Stuart says, "Maybe we will get back some of the money so we can get things to wash out in our budgets. So it's a good and bad on both ends."

The idea of counting prisoners as part of the population in counties with state and federal prisons is not without its controversy. But census officials say it would be costly to determine the exact residence of every prisoner prior to their incarceration.

The U.S. Census also uses the same method when counting college students who live on campus even though this may only serve as their temporary residence.

But county leaders are certainly happy for the boost they get from prisoners who, temporarily, call Calhoun County home.

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