- The Washington Times - Monday, April 23, 2001

TILGHMANTON, Md. — The state prison complex two miles from McNamees Tavern never bothered owner Mark McNamee — until the census got him thinking.
The 6,900 inmates housed in the three prisons south of Hagerstown are included in Washington Countys 2000 population count. State liquor law allows one license per 1,000 persons.
To Mr. McNamee, that meant six liquor licenses available to potential competitors in his rural neighborhood, based on a large number of people who arent allowed to drink.
"I could see what was going to happen," Mr. McNamee said. "You start an influx of licenses, you start putting people out of business."
He called his state delegate, who helped pass a law prohibiting inmates from being counted toward liquor licenses in Washington County.
They still count, though, for many government functions based on the census. Especially in rural counties, a big inmate population can skew demographics, bring in extra government money and help determine political boundaries.
The U.S. Census Bureau considers prisons "group quarters," a category also including nursing homes, mental hospitals, college dormitories and military barracks.
The result is a mixed bag in Washington County, home to 29 percent of the states prisoners. They account for 5.2 percent of the countys population of 131,923.
Washington County Economic Development Director John Howard said the inflated population is a selling point in his talks with prospective employers. It suggests the county is "big league," he said, offering "a quality of life and attendant amenities, a work force and a tax base sufficient to maintain leverage and stability in seeking new clients for our community."
The prison population, about 80 percent black, also makes Washington County among the more racially diverse in the state — on paper. Outside the prisons, the county is almost totally white.
Most inmates dont earn much, which hurts the countys per-capita income rate. That rate — $23,282 — is below the midpoint for Maryland counties, Mr. Howard said.
"That is always weighing heavy against us," he said.
A big prison population can be a plus, though, when it comes to government largess. Dozens of federal and state grant programs factor census population data into their funding formulas, including community and housing services, public health, arts grants, library operations — even court judgeships.
State planners havent studied the effect of inmate populations on such programs, but a federal study suggests it is not large.
The General Accounting Office examined 15 federal grant programs in 1999 and attempted to measure the funding effect of undercounting the population by about 1.6 percent — the estimated undercount in the 1990 census.
The result: Had those people been counted, about one-third of 1 percent of the funds would have been reallocated.
More significant is the realignment of legislative districts that could be affected by prison populations. Allegany County, just west of Washington County, showed virtually no change in overall population from 1990 to 2000, mainly because of two prisons built there during the 1990s — one state, one federal.
The combined prison population of 3,067, or 4.1 percent of the county total, helped keep the population of Senate District 1 — encompassing Allegany and Garrett counties — above a level that almost certainly would have required that it be redrawn to include some of western Washington County.
"Its a little more likely to me that Senate District 1 may not have to expand into the third county because our population is slightly bigger than I thought it was going to be," said House of Delegates Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Allegany County Democrat.
Delegate Christopher B. Shank, Washington County Republican, was relieved: "I would love to have Cas Taylor in the Washington County delegation but I think there is something to be said for having resident Washington County delegates and senators, and the more that were able to maximize that, the better."


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