National Academies report calls for Census Bureau to collect alternative addresses for people in prison

September 14, 2006  

September 14 — The National Research Council of the National Academies today released a report calling for the Census Bureau to begin collecting the home addresses of people in prison and to study whether this alternative address should be used in the Census. The report, authored by leading demographers, statisticians and sociologists, was commissioned by the Census Bureau to reexamine where people should be counted in the Census.

With the exception of counting people in prison, the panel generally agreed with the Census Bureau’s method of counting people as residents of the place where they sleep most of the time, although it suggested that the residence “rules” should be structured as “principles” as a more flexible and easily understood method of identifying residence. To this end, the report recommended that the Bureau start collecting a secondary “any residence elsewhere”, for the entire population, including people in prison.

The panel expressed deep concern about where people in prison were counted, stating that “the evidence of political inequities in redistricting that can arise due to the counting of prisoners at the prison location is compelling”.The panel cited an article by Eric Lotke and Peter Wagner that “nearly 9% of all African-American men in their twenties and thirties live in prison” and that most prisons are located in largely White rural areas.

The report’s recommendations address both short and long-term reforms that could improve redistricting and democracy. The report discusses a compromise proposal that would identify prison populations in the Census Bureau’s PL91-171 Redistricting Data File and give state and county data users the option of removing the prison populations prior to redistricting.

The National Research Council report called for the Census Bureau to initiate a major “research and testing program, including experimentation as a part of the 2010 Census” to evaluate assigning incarcerated people to other addresses outside the facility. The panel also recommended that that the Census Bureau rely less on administrative records and more on specialized forms and interviews to count people in prison.

“This report, from the Census Bureau’s own experts, refutes the Census Bureau’s claim that changing how it counts people in prison would be too difficult, too expensive and not necessary,” said Prison Policy Initiative Executive Director Peter Wagner.

Wagner continued: “The National Research Council has defined what a good faith examination of the feasibility of counting incarcerated people at their pre-incarceration addresses would look like. The Census Bureau should get to work today.”


The National Research Council is part of the National Academies, which also comprise the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and Institute of Medicine. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The National Academies perform an unparalleled public service by bringing together committees of experts in all areas of scientific and technological endeavor. These experts serve pro bono to address critical national issues and give advice to the federal government and the public.

The Prison Policy Initiative documents the impact of mass incarceration on individuals, communities, and the national welfare. The Easthampton, MA based organization produces accessible and innovative research to empower the public to participate in creating better criminal justice policy.

On the web:

“Once, Only Once, and in the Right Place: Residence Rules in the Decennial Census” http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11727.html

Prison Policy Initiative http://www.prisonpolicy.org

Prisoners of the Census, a project of the Prison Policy Initiative http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org

Links to the report, materials submitted to the National Research Council and other information about the report is available at: http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/na/

Contact: Peter Wagner
Prison Policy Initiative
www.prisonpolicy.org
(413) 527-0845