Advisory Committee should urge Census Bureau to end prison-based gerrymandering

by Leah Sakala, October 26, 2012

Ben Peck of Dēmos testified this morning before the Census Bureau’s National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations, explaining why it’s time for the Census Bureau to plan ahead to end prison-based gerrymandering in 2020 once and for all.

Now is the time, Ben explained, “for the Bureau to undertake the evaluation and research that will be necessary to change its practices for determining the residence of incarcerated persons, so that in the next Census incarcerated persons will be properly tabulated as residents of their home communities.”

Subcommittees of the Race and Ethnic Advisory Committee to the Census Bureau have repeatedly passed resolutions urging the Bureau to take up this research issue:

  • Recommendation 2: Residence Rule, African-American subcommittee of the Census Bureau’s Race and Ethnic Advisory Committee, October 2011.

    “The Committee recommends that the Census Bureau prioritize conducting research as part of their 2020 Census planning to describe a process and the feasibility of implementing changes to the “usual residence” rule to provide a count in the 2020 Census of incarcerated persons at the pre-incarceration addresses, including identifying the best means of gathering such information and incorporating it into Census counts nationwide.

  • Recommendation 3 — Research on Alternative Methods of Counting Prisoners, Joint Resolution of the Hispanic and Asian-American subcommittees of the Census Bureau’s Race and Ethnic Advisory Committee, October 8, 2010
  • Recommendations focused on 2020, African-American subcommittee of the Census Bureau’s Race and Ethnic Advisory Committee, October 2009.

    “The AA REAC recommends the Census Bureau allows prison inmates to fill out individual census forms giving their own preference as to place of residence, rather than continuing the current practice of having the prisoners counted as group quarter’s population where they are incarcerated.

    The AA REAC recommends the Census Bureau provides an opportunity to discuss the topic of prisoners… and political representation in the communities from which they came.”

  • Recommendation 10, Census Advisory Committee of the African-American population, October 1-3, 2003:

    “We recommend that prisoners, including those housed outside their states, be counted as residents of their pre-incarceration addresses…”

The Census Bureau made great progress for the 2010 Census by publishing correctional population data in time for state and local governments to avoid prison-based gerrymandering by making populations adjustments on their own. The National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations now has the opportunity to urge the Census Bureau to keep making progress on this issue. After all, as Ben points out, only the Census Bureau has the power to put an end to prison-based gerrymandering nationwide:

Fortunately, the Census Bureau can achieve a full and permanent solution for the 2020 Census: revising its “usual residence” rule to tabulate incarcerated persons as residents of the community where they resided prior to incarceration.

Tweet this page Follow @PrisonPolicy on Twitter Get our newsletter Donate


  • May 15, 2018:
    Our Policy Analyst Lucius Couloute will be at the LEDA Summit on Race and Inclusion in Holland, Michigan, presenting his research on the challenges and disadvantages people face when they are released from prison. Tickets are available on LEDA’s website.

Not near you?
Invite us to your city, college or organization.