Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: Hawaii

50 State Guide, March 2010

Prison-based gerrymandering violates the constitutional principle of “One Person, One Vote.” The Supreme Court requires districts to be based on equal population in order to give each resident the same access to government. But a longstanding flaw in the Census counts incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, even though they can’t vote and aren’t a part of the surrounding community.

When legislators claim people incarcerated in their districts are legitimate constituents, they award people who live close to the prison more of a say in government than everybody else.

Impact at the state level:

  • Incarcerated people in Hawaii are disproportionately Native. In the 2000 Census, 18% of the state was Native Hawaiian. The Department of Public Safety says that approximately 40% of incarcerated people are Native, and the U.S. Census reported higher figures in the three facilities for which such data was available:
    • Halawa Correctional Facility: 55.8%
    • Waiawa Correctional Facility: 52.8%
    • Kauai Community Correcttional Center: 42.7%
  • The state currently sends 1,900 (54%) of it’s state prison population to prisons on the mainland, mostly to the private Saguaro Prison in Arizona. These people are credited to Arizona for congressional apportionment purposes and used to pad state legislative districts in Arizona.

Hawaii law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • “A person does not gain or lose a residence solely by reason of the person’s presence or absence… while confined in a prison.” (Hawaii Revised Statutes § 11-13(5).)


  • Ideally, the U.S. Census Bureau would change where it counts incarcerated people. They should be counted as residents of their home — not prison — addresses. There is no time for that in 2010, but Hawaii should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020.

Resources about the 2000 Census and the prison miscount:

In 2000, Hawaii also sent a lot of incarcerated people to the mainland. One of those places was Swift County Minnesota and that created a number of interesting statistical anomalies:

  • Why are so many Native Hawaiians incarcerated in Minnesota? is an article about the apparent — but incorrect — fact that Minnesota incarcerates Native Hawaiians at a rate 46 time higher than it incarcerates White people.
  • Percent change, 1990-2000: Native Hawaiian [PDF] shows, on the first map, that Swift County Minnesota has one of the fastest growing Native Hawaiian populations in the country. Again, this is the statistical result of the Census Bureau counting Native Hawaiians in the wrong place.
  • Over 50% of the “residents” of Minnesota's Swift County's District 1, were actually incarcerated Hawaiians who “resided” at the Prairie Correctional Facility located in that district. People incarcerated at Prairie cannot vote, and if they could, the Hawaiian population surely would not be voting in Minnesota elections. But the prison population was counted for redistricting purposes in the district that contains the prison. Therefore, the actual residents of District 1, which surrounds the prison, used Hawaiian residents to get twice as much say in their Minnesota county government as any other resident in the other four districts of the local county.
  • A list of new large prisons built in Hawaii since the 2000 Census. These prisons are may create new prison-based gerrymandering problems after their populations are counted in the 2010 census.
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