After the 2000 Census, Illinois counted 26,304 mostly Black and Latino residents of Chicago as residents of downstate prison towns, which had a staggering impact on democracy at both the state, and county levels. Most of the state’s prisoners (60%) are Chicago residents, but the vast majority of them (90%) are counted as residents of downstate prisons. This miscount of incarcerated people misrepresents Illinois’ demographic makeup and skews its system of legislative representation. The Census Bureau continues to count Illinois' incarcerated residents at the prison locations rather than at home, but a growing campaign seeks to eliminate prison gerrymandering by changing how the state and counties use the Census data.
Every prison built in Illinois after 1941 was built more than 100 miles away from Chicago; the average distance from Chicago to a prison is more than 200 miles. The State bars people in prison from voting, but their presence in the Census boosts the population of the downstate districts whose legislators favor prison expansion. After the 2001 redistricting 11 downstate House districts were padded with substantial prison populations, skewing district boundaries throughout the state.
The problem is even more serious in county government, where large prisons can dominate the comparatively small populations of county legislative and supervisory districts. After redistricting following the 2010 Census, for example, 34% of LaSalle County's 6th district is incarcerated, giving every group of 66 residents in that district the same voting power as 100 residents in any other district.
Counties and municipalities, however, need not wait for state action to solve prison-based gerrymandering problems. The City of Crest Hill, for example, adjusts population data when drawing its districts, and excludes the prison population. Crest Hill's District 2 contains Stateville Correctional Center, it would be about 60% prisoners if the City included the prison in population data when redistricting in 2012.
A bill was introduced in the House to collect the home addresses of incarcerated people, and to require the state and county governments to draw legislature districts on the basis of Census Bureau data corrected to count incarcerated people at their home addresses:
It’s impossible to include everyone who is working toward fair districting in Illinois, but if you are looking to get involved, these are some of the people and organizations you might want to contact: