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North Carolina resident observes two flawed ways of counting prison populations, urges Census Bureau to use pre-incarceration addresses

by Alison Walsh, July 25, 2016

In his letter to the Census Bureau regarding the Residence Rule and Residence Situations, Drew Kukorowski compares the two different approaches to counting prison populations he observed in his home state. Kukorowski is a member of Prison Policy Initiative’s Board of Directors and a resident of North Carolina, “a state in which the current Residence Rule distorted election district boundaries.”

In North Carolina, two counties removed the prison populations from the PL 94-171 redistricting data altogether, “thereby avoiding inflating the political clout of people who lived in the county districts that contained the prisons.”

Granville County went in a different direction. The county is “home to a massive federal prison complex” and “counted the people incarcerated in the county as if they resided in the county.”

Kukorowski argues that these are just two examples of how counties can respond to the complications prisons pose for redistricting. Neither solution is ideal.

The former are examples of the lengths to which local governments must go to adjust data effected by the Residence Rule, and the latter is an example of the political distortion that the Residence Rule causes when local governments rely on the PL 94-171 data provided by the Census Bureau.

When excluding the prison population for redistricting places an unfair burden on local governments, but including the prison population as prison residents artificially inflates population counts, it’s time for the Census Bureau to “count incarcerated people as residents of their last home address.”

Despite the testimony of Kukorowski – plus 154 other individuals and groups – the Census Bureau has proposed to continue counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison locations.

For more on prison gerrymandering in Granville, North Carolina, read Drew Kukorowski’s explainer, “The Harm of Prison Gerrymandering, Or is Bernie Madoff Really a Resident of Granville County School Board District 3?

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