In case you were wondering about prisons and apportionment

by Aleks Kajstura, December 21, 2010  

Today, the Census Bureau announced the first data release of the 2010 Census: the population for every state. Today’s data reveals how many seats in Congress each state will receive. The drawing of those district lines, and lines for state, county and municipal legislatures must wait for the publication of block-level counts in a few months.

Apportionment is in the news because fast growing states will be getting additional seats, and states growing more slowly be will have lost seats.

Our work at the Prison Policy Initiative focuses on the repercussions of the Census Bureau’s practice of counting incarcerated people as residents, not of their legal home addresses, but of the correctional facility. We focus mostly on the impact on rural city and county redistricting and on state legislative redistricting, where a single large prison can have a large effect on how the districts are drawn.

The release of today’s numbers raises the question: Did the transfer of people to federal, private and other correctional facilities across state lines impact apportionment?

Our review of the apportionment numbers, and our research on the flow of correctional populations across states lines says that in 2010, apportionment was not affected by the prison count. While 10 states gained seats in Congress and 8 states lost seats, the margin by which individual seats were gained or lost was smaller than the number of people transferred across state lines. The last seat in Congress went to Minnesota. North Carolina missed getting that seat by about 15,700 people, a margin far larger than the flow of prisoners in and out of those states.

This result is not surprising because most people in prison are incarcerated in their home state, so the Census Bureau’s prison miscount is largely a problem for districting within a state and less so for the distribution of political power between states.

Thanks to Andy Beveridge, Sam Brooke, Amanda Fox, Alex Friedmann, Craig Gilmore, Bob Libal, Carrie Ann Shirota, Sarah Walker, and the Bureau of Prisons for helping us collect the necessary data.

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