After Charlton, the Georgia county that registered the second largest percentage increase to its Hispanic population was Irwin County (+193%). In April 2020, Irwin County was home to another ICE detention facility, which shut down amid controversy last month.
The city of Folkston, where Charlton’s immigration detention facility is located, zoomed up from No. 176 in the state on the USA Today Diversity Index in 2010 to No. 8 in 2020. The index assesses how likely it is that two people in a given area would have a different race or ethnicity, according to census data.
Prison populations and redistricting
Counting inmates as residents of the towns where they are being detained can yield an imprecise assessment of community populations for research and planning purposes, experts say. It can also skew electoral representation, with inmates adding to an area’s political clout despite not being able to vote.
Wanda Bertram is a communications strategist at the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to reduce mass incarceration. She says the effects of so-called prison gerrymandering are particularly visible at the local level.
“Prisons throw off the balance of democracy because they distort the sizes of districts, and the smaller the district size, the more of an impact the prison is going to have,” she said. “So, the impacts of prison gerrymandering are actually felt most keenly in the cities and the counties that host prisons.”
Following every new census, local governments have the ability to not take their prison populations into account when drawing new district maps. Gina Wright, executive director of the state Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office, has said that local leaders in Georgia have been leaning towards excluding prison populations during redistricting.
After the 2010 census, 10 Georgia counties avoided prison-based gerrymandering by excluding prison populations in their census counts, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. The list included Stewart County, home to the largest immigration detention center in the state.
In an email, Hampton Raulerson, Charlton County administrator, told the AJC that decisions regarding redistricting will be made later this fall. Nearly 19% of the county’s official residents live in adult correctional facilities, according to 2020 census data.
Data Specialist Jennifer Peebles contributed to this report.
Lautaro Grinspan is a Report for America corps member covering metro Atlanta’s immigrant communities.