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Report on prison-based gerrymandering in Illinois released

February 2, 2010

Census Bureau counts Illinois prisoners in wrong place; access to democracy distorted

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — The 2010 Census is rapidly approaching, but an old error threatens the count, charges a new report by the non-profit Prison Policy Initiative. The report, Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in Illinois, explains that the U.S. Census counts people incarcerated in state and federal prisons as residents of the prison location, and that creates big problems for democracy at both the state and local level. “Crediting Chicago’s population to downstate prisons changes the balance of power in Illinois and within rural counties,” said Executive Director and report co-author Peter Wagner.

Under Illinois law people in prison — who can’t vote — are legal residents of their pre-incarceration homes. The Census Bureau counts these people in the wrong spot, and that will create a problem when the state next updates its legislative districts after the 2010 Census. Legislative districts must be updated each decade to ensure that each district contains the same number of residents, as mandated by the Supreme Court’s “One Person One Vote” rule, which ensures that each resident has the same access to government.

The report finds 11 Illinois Assembly districts where at least 2% of their population is incarcerated. In these eleven districts, the presence of the prisons in the Census data enables every group of 98 residents near the prisons to claim as much political power in the State Assembly as each group of 100 residents elsewhere. By using Census Bureau counts of prison populations to pad out legislative districts with prisons, Illinois is inflating the votes of residents who live near prisons in violation of the Supreme Court’s “One Person One Vote” rule.

“The problem is far larger in some rural county board districts,” said Wagner. The report finds rural county districts that are as much as 25% prisoners. “This allows the real residents of a district with a prison to unfairly dominate their county government.”

The report identifies 5 counties (Clinton, Lee, Rock Island, Vermillion, and Will) where prison populations have a large impact on democracy in county government, and applauds 10 counties for protecting the integrity of their local democracy by rejecting the Census Bureau’s prisoner count when drawing their districts.

The report explains how prison counts in the 2000 Census distorted democracy in Illinois over this decade, but warns that the problem will, without quick action by the legislature, be even larger in 2010. Legislation introduced by Representative LaShawn Ford is currently pending in the legislature that would correct the Census Bureau’s prison miscount and require the state and counties to draw fair districts based on the actual population of incarcerated people. Five other states have similar bills pending.

The report, “Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in Illinois”, is available at http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/illinois/ Factsheets and other material about ending-prison based gerrymandering in Illinois are available at http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/illinois.html

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