Mass. Legislature considers resolution calling on Census Bureau to end prison gerrymandering

A new resolution introduced in the House and Senate call on the Census Bureau to tabulate incarcerated people at their home addresses beginning in 2020.

by Leah Sakala, March 1, 2013

The Massachusetts Legislature has a new opportunity to take a stand against prison gerrymandering. Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and Representative Linda Dorcena Forry have introduced a resolution in the Senate and House calling on the Census Bureau to end prison gerrymandering across the nation by tabulating incarcerated people at their home addresses beginning in 2020.

A change at the Census Bureau would be especially helpful for Massachusetts, which faces unique constitutional requirements that would need to be revised before the state could implement a legislative solution as New York or Maryland have done. As the resolution observes,

…the simplest solution to the conflict between federal constitutional requirements of “one person, one vote” and Massachusetts constitutional requirements of using the federal census is for the Census Bureau to publish redistricting data based on the location of an incarcerated person’s residence, not prison location…

Massachusetts legislators know from experience how the Census Bureau’s method of tabulating prison populations distorts democracy. The Co-Chairs of the Massachusetts Special Joint Committee on Redistricting noted in their wrap-up redistricting report last December that prison gerrymandering was a significant problem they faced when they drew new electoral district lines after the 2010 Census:

The tabulation of prisoners should be at the forefront of Bureau priorities in evaluating and adjusting how the 2020 U.S. Census will be conducted.

We agree that the way prisoners are currently counted does a disservice to the state and should be changed.

By passing this resolution, the Massachusetts Legislature can send a strong message that it’s time for the Census Bureau to respond to changing data needs by providing state and local governments with redistricting data that accurately portrays American communities. Stay tuned!

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