Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: A 50 state guide
by Peter Wagner, Aleks Kajstura, Elena Lavarreda, Christian de Ocejo, and Sheila Vennell O'Rourke, March 2010
The 2010 Census will be counting more than 2 million incarcerated people in the wrong place. The laws of most states say that a prison cell is a not a residence, but the Census Bureau assigns incarcerated people to the prison location, not their home addresses. When state and local governments use this data to draw legislative districts, they unconstitutionally enhance the weight of a vote cast in districts that contain prisons and dilute those cast in every other district.
Click on a state for a summary of how the prison miscount harms state and local democracy, how each state defines residence for incarcerated people, and the status of reform efforts.
What the Census Bureau is doing differently in 2010
- Not changing how it counts incarcerated people. They will still be counted as residents of the prisons, but the Census will be:
- Speeding up publication of its data on prison populations,
so that states can use it in conjunction with their own data to assign incarcerated people to their home addresses, or assign prisoners to an unknown address so that they do not affect the redistricting formulas, or leave the prisoners counted where the prisons are. (In previous decades, this data was published too late to be useful.)
What states and local governments are doing differently in 2010
- Some states have pending legislation to change where incarcerated people are counted for redistricting purposes.
- Some local governments are exploring adjusting the prison counts on their own, like 100 counties already do.
How the prison system has changed since 2000
Background material on the Census Bureau's new data product:
- Advocates commend Census Bureau for enhancing states' access to data on prison populations in 2010 Census, February 10, 2010.
- The technical problem solved by the new data product.
- Prepared testimony of Robert M. Groves, Census Bureau Director [PDF] at Congressional field hearing on Census group quarters count, February 25, 2010. (See pp. 5-6 for the discussion of the Census Bureau's decision to release the P41 table with group quarters counts early.)
- Prepared testimony of Peter Wagner, Prison Policy Initiative Executive Director at Congressional field hearing on Census group quarters count, February 25, 2010.
- Census empowers, does not dictate data use, by Aleks Kajstura, March 8, 2010. (Recent media coverage reveals a misconception about basic principles of our electoral system. The Census Bureau does not have a "new policy" regarding populations used in redistricting. Decisions on data use have always been held by the data users.)