Facilities skew area statistics on race

Mark Guydish

February 20, 2013

WILKES-BARRE – U.S. Census figures don't lie, but they don't always tell the complete story. Analyzing the same demographic information through different data sets can paint different pictures.

Take the percentage of blacks in Luzerne County municipalities, as reported in a Monday Times Leader story. It is true that Jackson Township has the highest percentage of blacks in the county. It is also true, as several readers pointed out, that the State Correctional Institution at Dallas heavily skews those numbers. Remove SCI-Dallas from the data, and blacks in Jackson Township drop from 25 percent of the total population to 0.4 percent.

But even that isn't the complete picture. Jackson Township is relatively small, population-wise, with a total of 4,646 people. Of those, 2,086 are in a correctional facility – a whopping 44 percent of the total. And of those in prison, 1,153 – 55 percent – are black.

For a more complete picture of the prison's demographic impact, consider this: The prison's 1,153 black inmates make up almost 25 percent of the township's total population, but the prison's 933 non-black inmates – 814 of whom are white - make up 20 percent of the township's total population.

And to add some scale, consider that those 1,153 inmates may equate to 25 percent of Jackson Township's population, but would be less than 3 percent of Wilkes-Barre's population, where 4,519 blacks make up only 10.9 percent of the 41,498 total.

Wilkes-Barre, in fact, offers a different lesson in demographic data mining: Removing a certain subset of the population can actually increase the percentage of blacks, at least a little. Correctional facility inmates are a smaller group of what the U.S. Census dubs people in group quarters, defined as a place where people live or stay that is normally owned or managed by an entity or organization providing housing and/or services for the residents.

Along with prisons, group quarters can refer to college dorms, residential treatment centers, skilled nursing facilities, group homes, military barracks and homeless shelters.

In Jackson Township, the number of people living in group quarters is the same as the number in correctional facilities. In Wilkes-Barre, there are 3,065 people listed as living in group quarters, with only 649 classified as prison inmates. The percentage of blacks overall is 10.9 percent; take away group quarters residents, and it inches up to 11 percent. In Dallas Township, 1,235 people (none of them black) are listed in group quarters, making up 13.7 percent of the 8,994 total. The black population is small to begin with – 0.3 percent – but take away the group quarters population and it nudges up to 0.4 percent.

All that said, statistically speaking, the municipalities with the largest percentage of black people in Luzerne County change when you take correctional facilities out of the equation. Monday's story correctly noted that Jackson Township topped the list, followed by Wilkes-Barre and Newport Township. But the two townships have small populations where percentages are easily skewed by the addition of prisons (Newport's numbers are also affected by a state prison, SCI-Retreat, though not quite as dramatically as Jackson Township).

Remove prison populations and three municipalities with the highest percentages of blacks are Wilkes-Barre, Edwardsville and Butler Township.

But there's a statistical anomaly to that, as well: Butler Township houses the Keystone Job Corps, a residential job training center, and thus a group quarters facility – with a high percentage of black students. Look at municipalities with the group quarters numbers stripped away completely, and Plymouth Borough replaces Butler Township in third place and Butler Township drops to 22nd.