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Congress and Census Bureau Director talk prison gerrymandering

by Leah Sakala, September 13, 2013  

Congress and the Census Bureau are deep in discussion about planning for the 2020 Census, and the question of whether or not prison gerrymandering will continue to undermine state and local democracy in the next decade is still on the table.

At a congressional hearing about the 2020 Census on Wednesday, I was happy to see that Congressman William Lacy Clay asked the new Census Bureau Director, John Thompson, how the Bureau plans to count prison populations. Congressman Clay noted that he had already submitted a joint letter to the Bureau with 17 other congressional colleagues urging the Bureau to count incarcerated people at their home addresses in 2020. He also pointed out that several states have already passed their own laws to avoid prison gerrymandering by adjusting their redistricting data, a solution that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Even though we’re frustrated that the Census Bureau isn’t farther along in developing a solution, the Director’s reply made it clear that it’s not too late to end prison gerrymandering. He said that the Bureau hasn’t yet decided how it will handle prison populations in the 2020 Census, and emphasized the importance of stakeholder input in the Bureau’s decisionmaking:

My opinion on this will be based on consultation with stakeholders to try to adopt the rules that will be most appropriate to count people.

Here at the Prison Policy Initiative, we’re looking forward to working with Director Thompson to develop a national solution to prison gerrymandering by 2020. It’s time to update the Census Bureau’s methodology to be able to count incarcerated people in their home communities next time around.

4 Responses

  1. Census Bureau hears from states that prison gerrymandering must go | Prison Gerrymandering Project says, 4 days, 21 hours after publication:

    [...] Sakala blogged this week about how prison gerrymandering was discussed at a recent congressional hearing on the 2020 Census. It was also a major part of a meeting about the Census Bureau and redistricting [...]

  2. Leah Sakala says, 1 week, 6 days after publication:

    The New York Times linked to this blog post in the editorial board’s great piece, “Prison-based Gerrymandering”:

  3. 2013 has been our best year yet! Can you support us for 2014? | Prison Policy Initiative says, 2 months, 2 weeks after publication:

    [...] Our work to end prison gerrymandering sparked legislation in eight states and passed in two, more than 200 local governments have solved the problem on their own, and the issue got news coverage in hundreds of articles and editorials including a New York Times editorial. And the Census Bureau, which encourages states to engage in prison gerrymandering by counting incarcerated people at correctional facilities, is finally signaling that it is open to changing the practice. [...]

  4. More on Felony Disenfranchisement, America’s Most Racist Policy | Alas, a Blog says, 4 months, 1 week after publication:

    [...] the map at top, some localities have banned prison gerrymandering – but most haven’t. The Census Bureau is talking about changing how the Census counts prisoners, and that’s good; however, I worry that any [...]

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  • December 7-9, 2014:
    Peter Wagner will be in Washington D.C. for meetings about prison gerrymandering and other issues. If you’d like to meet while Peter is in town, please contact us.

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