by Aleks Kajstura, September 30, 2016

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In a letter sent to the Census Bureau last week, 13 United States Senators request that the Census Bureau count incarcerated people as residents of their homes in the 2020 Census.

The Senators highlight both practical and constitutional reasons to count incarcerated people at home, concluding:

To ensure that all people are fairly counted as part of their home communities, and in pursuit of our constitutional ideals, we join this chorus of support to ask that the Census Bureau act without delay to correct for this inequality in the 2020 Census.

The Senators’ request echoes 100,000 other voices submitted in comments to the Census Bureau last month. You can read the Senators’ letter in our collection of the comments the Bureau received in 2016.

September 21, 2016

The following statement was issued today by representatives of the ACLU of Rhode Island, Demos, the Prison Policy Initiative and the ACLU:

"Today, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the First Circuit overturned a ruling issued earlier this year by U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux, who had held that the City of Cranston violated the one person, one vote requirements of the U.S. Constitution when it allocated the entire incarcerated population of the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) as 'residents' of one ward of the City when it drew district lines for the City Council and School Committee following the 2010 Census and thereby created significant distortions in local representation. A panel of the First Circuit instead ruled that a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling dictated a different outcome.

"We respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the First Circuit's ruling. We believe the panel misinterpreted the Supreme Court's recent Evenwel v. Abbott case as vindicating the City's position when it did no such thing. As a result of that misinterpretation, the panel opinion fails to adequately address the critical 'one person, one vote' implications of Cranston's use of prison gerrymandering to overinflate the representation of constituents in the school committee and city council districts where the ACI is located. As a result, we will strongly be considering filing a petition for rehearing of the case before the entire First Circuit.

"To this day, we have heard no logical basis for the City's decision to count the entire ACI population as residing in a single City ward even though people incarcerated there who are able to vote generally are barred from voting there according to state law. In addition to the constitutional concerns, the City's choice is not rational. The prison population is wholly physically and politically isolated from the surrounding community, and local elected officials do not represent those incarcerated at the ACI in any meaningful way. This provides yet another reason for us to consider seeking an en banc rehearing, as well as for the City Council itself to fix this issue for elections in future years, as it had started to do before this appeal was filed.

"During this campaign season, serious concerns and questions about electoral fairness are being raised and felt across the country. Like those disputes, this case goes to the heart of the importance of fair representation, something that Cranston's current system simply does not provide."

Background on the Lawsuit

At issue in the lawsuit was the City of Cranston's choice to count the more than three thousand inmates at the ACI in a single city ward for the purposes of drawing City Council and School Committee districts. Judge Lagueux had agreed with the ACLU and other plaintiffs that this "prison gerrymandering" was improper because those incarcerated at the ACI are not actual constituents of local elected officials, but instead remain residents of their pre-incarceration communities for virtually all legal purposes, including voting. Due to the questionable counting, all persons incarcerated by the state of Rhode Island are used to account for 25 percent of Ward 6's total "population." According to Census Bureau data, without the non-resident incarcerated population, Ward 6 has only 10,227 true constituents. Yet those constituents now wield the same political power as the roughly 13,500 constituents in each of the other wards.

The case is Davidson et. al. v. City of Cranston. Today's decision and others documents in the case be found here.

Plaintiffs in the case were represented by attorneys with Demos, the Prison Policy Initiative, the ACLU and the ACLU of Rhode Island.

by Peter Wagner, September 8, 2016

In June, the Census Bureau announced plans to continue counting incarcerated people as residents of their prison, not home, addresses in the 2020 Census, and invited public comments on their proposal. Almost 100,000 people including civil rights organizations, elected officials at all levels of government, former Directors of the Census Bureau and citizens from across the country weighed in to tell the Census Bureau that a prison is not a residence.

The comment period closed last week on September 1 and a final decision is expected by the end of the year. The Bureau won’t publish the comments it received until that time, but a large sample is available now at

One key theme in these comments is that:

Treating a prison as a “usual residence” reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of incarceration. The critical issue is that while a prison itself seems permanent, the people located there on any given day are not.

The Prison Policy Initiative and our long-time partners at Dēmos submitted an in-depth 18 page comment that corrects the Census Bureau’s fundamental misunderstanding of incarceration and explains that while a prison stay is temporary, an incarcerated person’s connection to his or her home is enduring.

Many other organizations made very substantial contributions of criminal justice data, demographic data, and legal research as well. For example, the Vera Institute of Justice analyzed never seen before data from Washington, Oregon, and Nebraska to show that the median time at the current facility on April 1st, 2015 was less than nine months.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF questioned why the Census Bureau recognizes the family and community ties of boarding school students and members of Congress to count them at their home addresses, but fails to give incarcerated people the same consideration. Several elected officials made it clear that residents of their jurisdictions remain their constituents — and continue to look to them for representation — even when incarceration forcibly moves these constituents to different counties and states. This same point about residence was also made by a former correctional officer who observed that incarcerated people were not regarded as fellow constituents by nearby residents in her county.

There were also several important petitions. Leaders of 35 foundations, including Ford Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation and Bauman Foundation, explained their need for accurate Census data and urged the Bureau to recognize that incarcerated people should be counted at home. 39 civil rights groups joined with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to call for a fair and accurate 2020 Census. Daily Kos organized 29,000 of their members to send individual messages to the Census Bureau and 48,314 of their members to sign a petition. CREDO Action also asked its members to submit public comments calling for an end to prison gerrymandering, with more than 47,600 doing so.

The Prison Policy Initiative would like to thank everyone who submitted a comment calling for a fair and accurate 2020 Census. Stay tuned to for more analysis and updates on next steps.

by Alison Walsh, September 6, 2016

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Last year, the Census Bureau requested comments on the 2020 Decennial Census Residence Rule and Residence Situations and received 162 comments on the topic of where to count incarcerated people. 96% of these comments favored counting incarcerated people at their home addresses. But the Bureau ignored the overwhelming public input and, in June, announced plans to continue the outdated and inaccurate practice of counting incarcerated people as “residents” of prison locations.

The Census Bureau seeks to count everyone at his or her “usual residence,” defined as the place where a person “eats and sleeps most of the time.” In our response to the Bureau’s latest request for comments, we and our partners at Dēmos make it clear that a prison cell is not a usual residence under this definition, and the consequences of the prison miscount extend far beyond correctional facility walls.

Our comment letter makes four key arguments:

Apart from how short a time any given person spends at any given facility, the total length of individual sentences of persons in state prisons is much shorter than is routinely assumed. (pp 2-5)

Other similarly situated people are counted at home, while incarcerated people are strangely singled out to be counted in the wrong place. (pp 5-11)

We believe, on factual, practical, and legal grounds, that the Bureau is incorrect in asserting that it can cede all responsibility for producing useful redistricting data to state governments. (pp 11-13)

Most people in the country are harmed by prison gerrymandering to one extent or another. (pp 13-15)

As more and more jurisdictions are eliminating prison gerrymandering within their borders, and federal courts twice this year declared prison gerrymandering unconstitutional, the Census Bureau should heed the growing consensus and count incarcerated people in the right place in the next Census.

Though we think it’s a good read, our full comment letter is 18 pages long. So we summarized the main arguments and data in one handy fact sheet.

by Alison Walsh, September 2, 2016

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The Census Bureau has heard from a range of voices on the issue of where to count incarcerated people for the 2020 Census. Last year, a chorus of civil rights and voting rights organizations, legislators, law professors, and formerly incarcerated individuals all asked the Bureau to update its methodology and start counting incarcerated at their home addresses. Despite this consensus, the Bureau announced plans last June to continue counting incarcerated people as “residents” of prison facilities.

On Wednesday, 35 foundation leaders – representing organizations such as the Ford Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Bauman Foundation – joined together and also urged the Census Bureau to end the prison miscount. They explain the importance of an accurate census count both in their work and for communities they serve:

Our institutions and our grantees are heavily dependent on census data in the philanthropic work we undertake. Therefore, we are committed to preserving and enhancing the integrity and accuracy of the census and improving the count of those segments of the population that historically and persistently have been missed in prior censuses, including communities of color, immigrants, young children, and rural and low-income populations. In fact, many of us are funding activities that support the Census Bureau’s mission for an accurate 2020 census. […]

[C]ounting every person is not enough; they must be counted in the right location to ensure a truly accurate result.

The coalition finds two key problems with the Census Bureau’s proposal: it overlooks the true meaning of a “usual residence” and goes against public input.

The Census Bureau seeks to count everyone at his or her “usual residence,” defined as the place where a person “eats and sleeps most of the time.” Following this guideline should lead the Bureau to count incarcerated people at their home communities. “Such people are ‘usual residents’ of the home (and community) in which they lived before the government moved them involuntarily to a temporary prison setting.” Incarceration, the authors point out, “is a temporary stay.” People in correctional facilities “have a usual home elsewhere to which they will eventually return once the sentence is served.”

Furthermore, the foundation leaders note that the Census Bureau’s proposal ignores the overwhelming call for change.

When the Bureau sought comments last year on its residence rules for 2020, 96 percent of the submissions regarding residence rules for incarcerated persons urged the Bureau to count incarcerated persons at their home address, which is almost always their legal address. This level of consensus among stakeholders and experts, which is based on a thorough understanding of the realities of modern incarceration, is extraordinary and deserves far more consideration than it was given.

In the past, the Census Bureau has demonstrated a willingness to change its policies in response to unique living situations. “Those changes, however, have not extended to counting incarcerated people in the right place.” For example, the Bureau decided to count military personnel deployed overseas at their home addresses in 2020, “even though there were far fewer comments related to this subject than on the prison miscount.”

Still, it is not too late for the Bureau to lay the groundwork for an accurate 2020 Census by finally deciding to count incarcerated people at home. The coalition concludes: “We hope the Bureau’s final 2020 Census Residence Criteria reflects this change for the 2020 Census.”

Read their full letter

by Alison Walsh, August 23, 2016

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We received the following press release from our friends at LatinoJustice PRLDEF. Learn why they are calling on the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people at home in 2020:


John Garcia, Director of Communications (LatinoJustice PRLDEF)
(212) 739-7513, (917) 673-9095 or jgarcia [at]

New York, NY — The U.S. Census should count prisoners at their home addresses, where they have the strongest family and community ties, and not where they are incarcerated, LatinoJustice PRLDEF said in a letter to the U.S. Census Bureau. Earlier in June of this year, the Bureau announced its decision to continue the practice of counting incarcerated people where they are detained, rather than in the communities they call home, for the 2020 Census. Before the rule becomes final, the Bureau is giving the public, organizations and individuals a chance to send in comments.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF is concerned with how Latinas, Latinos, and other communities of color may be impacted by this residence rule. In addition to being illogical and inconsistent, the proposed rule creates a high risk of vote dilution through prison gerrymandering and reinforces systemic racial inequality, LatinoJustice attorneys wrote the Bureau.

Juan Cartagena, LatinoJustice PRLDEF President and General Counsel, has followed this issue for many years.

“In a time when many underprivileged and unjustly marginalized people of color are forced to keep reiterating that their lives matter, importing the myriad problems and statistically-proven racial discrimination of the criminal justice system into the calculus of political power and representation only further entrenches systemic racial inequity, which is an untenable proposition for the American people in 2020,” he said. “We believe the U.S. Census can and should do better. No incarcerated person’s family and community ties should be valued any less than a boarding school student’s family and community ties. To do so is the definition of inequality.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF Associate Counsel Joanna Cuevas Ingram drew a comparison with members of Congress who, like those who may be incarcerated, are serving a time-limited term and are likely to return home.

“No one doubts that a Congress member’s usual residence is in his or her home district,” Cuevas Ingram said. “Incarcerated people should be afforded the same presumption, as they are just as likely to return home to where they have the most family and community ties.”

More privileged populations are counted in a way that recognizes their connections to their true homes and communities. This glaring inconsistency raises concerns about whether the Bureau places less value on the lives, families, and communities of incarcerated people, who are disproportionately Black and Latino.

The Bureau counts incarcerated people wherever they happen to be detained on Census day because, presumably, that is where they live and sleep “most of the time.” But this is simply not true.

For example, in one 2008 study in New York, the median time that an incarcerated individual remained at a particular facility was only 7.1 months. In Georgia, the median is only nine months. When people are moving from facility to facility at irregular and frequent rates, it does not make logical sense to count their “usual residence” as the place where they happen to be located on one particular day, especially since most incarcerated people are serving short sentences and will return to their home communities.

The inconsistency of the Bureau’s residence rules is clear in its treatment of boarding school students in comparison with incarcerated people. Boarding school students are counted at their home addresses, even though they live and sleep most of the time at school.

One of the Bureau’s justifications for counting these students at home is the “likelihood” that they will return home when they stop attending school. But most U.S. boarding schools have almost universal college attendance rates upon graduation. In fact, every one of the fifteen schools that board more than 400 students reports a college attendance rate upon graduation of either 99% or 100%. Such high college attendance rates are completely inconsistent with the Bureau’s reasoning of the “likelihood” that these students will return home after attending boarding school.

This inconsistency in the Residence Rules is particularly troubling given the racial and economic disparities at work. Both boarding school students and members of Congress tend to be much whiter and wealthier overall than people who are incarcerated.

“What these comparisons show is a tendency—however unintentional—to treat racially and economically privileged populations differently from low-income communities of color that are harmed by prison gerrymandering,” said Rebecca Ramaswamy, a LatinoJustice Legal Fellow who has followed this issue closely. “The Bureau needs to be conscious of that disparity, especially since boarding school students and members of Congress actually choose to live away from home.”

Read the letter

by Alison Walsh, August 5, 2016

The Census Bureau recently announced plans to continue counting incarcerated people as “residents” of prison locations for the 2020 Census. Before this rule becomes final, the Bureau is giving organizations and individuals a chance to send in comments.

Nick Medvecky submitted his letter today, and his experience is proof that a prison cell is not a residence. He explains, “I was incarcerated in over a dozen different prisons in seven different states.” And unlike students or travelers, he had no choice over his next location. “All of these sites were chosen by the prison system, not myself. They were always determined by the prison and the local communities as temporary residences.”

One address did remain consistent throughout Medvecky’s incarceration. “By my own intention as well as the determination of the prison administration, my prison file always contained a mandatory listing of my home address (from which I was initially incarcerated and to which I was expected to return).”

Medvecky was labeled a resident of a district that he never chose to reside in and that he never planned to return to, and he was not the only one affected by that misrepresentation. “Counting me as a residence in another Congressional District both improperly enhances representation in that temporary area and deprives my home area of its proper representation.”

He concludes: “Please count prisoners, like out-of-area students and other travelers, from their home residence, not their temporary one.”

The Census Bureau is accepting comments until September 1 on their proposal to continue counting incarcerated people where they happen to be located on Census Day.

by Alison Walsh, July 27, 2016

In their 2015 response (Word) to the Census Bureau’s request for comments on the proposed Residence Rule and Residence Situations, the members of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement powerfully draw upon their firsthand experience as unwilling participants in prison gerrymandering. President Dorsey Nunn writes, “Most, if not all, of us were at one time counted as parts of jurisdictions where we did not live…The political leadership where we were held against our will often drew their power from our presence.”

They argue that the reality of prison gerrymandering runs counter to the democratic ideal of equal representation:

We consider it nothing short of perverse that our bodies are used to over-inflate the population of a prison jurisdiction. The entire point of apportionment is for representation of an equal number of people by elected leaders. Without representation, there is no point in apportionment and no purpose to the U.S. Census Bureau other than a collection of demographic figures. As previously stated, the “representation” an incarcerated person receives from their unelected leader is inverted to their interests.

For the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People’s Movement, being used to artificially inflate population counts for the benefit of leaders who do not represent their interests is one of the ways in which “state and federal governments have stripped our American citizenship away.”

The Census Bureau is accepting comments through September 1 on their proposal to continue to count incarcerated people in the wrong location.

by Alison Walsh, July 26, 2016

In his letter to the Census Bureau (Word) regarding the Residence Rules and Residence Situations, Professor of Law and empirical economist James J. Prescott argues that counting incarcerated people in the wrong place is harmful to his profession and beyond.

I use data in my work, and I know how important data can be, both in arriving at truth and in helping us understand the world. It also affects the world, as you well know.

That’s why inaccurate population counts can have such a harmful effect on several levels.

Counting incarcerated people in the wrong place inflates the political power of people who live near prisons, when those counts are used for redistricting or other purposes. As you can imagine, this practice has serious repercussions for state legislative decisions that impact incarceration, but also it can have a huge impact on representational equality in the small communities that host the facilities.

Professor Prescott is a resident of Michigan, “a state at the forefront of how to deal with such population quirks.” Michigan law treats Census data as “the default source of data, but then creates an exemption for cases where the Bureau’s data falls short of Michigan’s standards of accuracy (such as counting incarcerated people in the wrong place).”

Instead of leaving states like Michigan to work around this shortcoming, Professor Prescott urges the Bureau to count incarcerated people at their home addresses. This will ensure that Census data can truly be “the best data for redistricting.”

As Professor Prescott explains, the decision of where to count incarcerated people influences more than prison-adjacent district lines and county seats. “I believe that a strong democracy and fair criminal justice policy depend on a population count that accurately represents all communities.”

Despite the far-reaching consequences described by Professor Prescott – as well as 154 other individuals and organizations – the Census Bureau announced plans to continue counting incarcerated people as residents of prison locations. Advocates are planning another round of comments to convince the Census Bureau it has made a mistake.

by Aleks Kajstura, July 25, 2016

The Census Bureau has extended the deadline to submit comments to September 1, 2016. The Bureau has requested comments on its proposed residence rules for the 2020 Census, which include a plan to once again count incarcerated people as if they were residents of the facility where they happen to be located on Census Day, rather than at home.

The Bureau explains:

Because of the scope of the proposed criteria, and in response to individuals and organizations who have requested more time to review the proposed criteria, the Census Bureau has decided to extend the comment period for an additional 31 days.

Written comments regarding the proposed “2020 Census Residence Rule and Residence Situations” can be emailed by September 1 to Karen Humes, Chief, Population Division at

If you submit a comment letter to the Bureau, we’d greatly appreciate it if you could please forward a copy to us at

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