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by Peter Wagner, June 22, 2011

We’ve had a number of inquiries recently from officials who want to use the Census Bureau’s Advance Group Quarters Summary File to remove the prison populations prior to redrawing county or municipal district lines, but who faced concerns that drawing fairer districts would cost them state or federal revenue. I thought excerpts from our recent responses would be useful to others looking in to the issue.

From Wisconsin:

You asked if the city or county removes the prison population from the city or county districting totals, would there be an effect on shared revenue funding?

The long answer is no. The Wisconsin shared revenue plan is codified in Wis. Stat. §§ 79.005-79.095. The aid is distributed based on formulas that take population into account. Population is defined by §79.005(2) by reference to population determinations made by the Department of Administration pursuant to §16.96. Pursuant to §16.96 the Dep’t of Administration makes population estimates, based on federal census data and any special census conducted under contract with the Census Bureau. Municipal redistricting data is not within the scope of the meaning of “population” as that word is used in formulas for shared revenue aid distributions.

The shorter version is also no, because shared revenue funding is not dependent upon county/city redistricting data.

From Illinois:

You asked about the impact of excluding the prison population on motor fuel tax revenues which are based in part on the Census. I’ve looked at many parts of the Illinois funding formulas, and this morning again looked at 5 ILCS 505 Section 8. I agree with your research that changing the data used for redistricting would not affect the funding distribution. The funding distribution is based on census data, and whatever data you use for local redistricting would not change the underlying Census data.

In a letter to a different official in Illinois, I explained more of the background:

In general, prison populations have very little effect on the most lucrative formulas that support education or anti-poverty programs because those formulas are highly tailored to the need. Prison populations are not included in how the government calculates “household income” or “poverty” and most of the education formulas are based on the number children in the census or the number of children enrolled in the schools, etc., which the prison populations also do not affect.

I know that this may be surprising, particularly given the Census Bureau’s overly simplistic rhetoric about why it is important for people to fill out Census forms. They are correct, of course, that each person on average represents about $1,400 per year in grants. But the overwhelming majority of this is block grants to the state of Illinois and not to individual municipalities. Prison populations play only a very minor part in the remainder, and none of those calculations are changed by how a county or municipality chooses to draw its legislative lines.

by Aleks Kajstura, June 13, 2011

A few recent news stories provide a great introduction to the redistricting process, and prison-based gerrymandering specifically:

The National Radio Project’s Making Contact – June 11 edition is a great introduction to the redistricting process in the United States, and some of the issues that it creates. The program includes a segment on prison-based with Peter Wagner.

New America Media did an interview with Dale Ho, from the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, which provides a slightly more advanced introduction to redistricting and prison-based gerrymandering. New American Media also published a written piece by Kenneth J.Coooper that summarizes the legislative efforts to end prison-based gerrymandering thus far and gives an overview of current developments.

by Peter Wagner, May 23, 2011

I just discovered video of a presentation that Justin Levitt made at the Redrawing the Boundaries: A Midwest Redistricting Discussion in Chicago in October 2009. He explains the problem of prison-based gerrymandering and then leads a detailed discussion with advocates about the strategy and rationale for reform. Although dated, it’s worth watching.

Questions include:

  • How are incarcerated people counted?
  • How are college students and the military counted?
  • Is there any data on how many prisoners–during the census period–return to their home communities, and as a consequence should be counted in their home communities?
  • If a state government elects to alter its prison count, when does that take place?
  • What’s the incentive for someone who benefits from a prison population to demand a census recount?
  • What are the primary effects of counting incarcerated people where they are incarcerated?
  • Does counting incarcerated people differ when it comes to congressional districts–versus state and local districts?

For more with Justin Levitt, see my podcast “Address Unknown” Podcast Episode #1 where we discuss the optimal way to structure a bill to eliminate prison-based gerrymandering.

by Aleks Kajstura, April 29, 2011

Many organizations and legislative bodies have made formal resolutions and recommendations critical of the Census Bureau’s prison count and condemning the practice of prison-based gerrymandering.

Our resolutions page gathers these resolutions from organizations like the NAACP, the Census Bureau’s own Advisory Committee, city councils and other local governments. This new page also has some sample resolutions that are a great starting-point for introducing a resolution in your organization or town, city, county or state legislature.

April 20, 2011

Tim Rusch,, (212) 389-1307
Peter Wagner,, (413) 527-0845
Aleks Kajstura,, (413) 527-0845
Anna Pycior,, (212) 389-1408

Advocates Hail Census Bureau’s Release of Data to Assist in Correcting Prison-Based Gerrymandering;
New Data Will Boost State and Local Efforts to Draw Fairer Districts

New York, NY—Today, the Census Bureau released a new data product that will assist state and local governments in avoiding prison-based gerrymandering, a practice which unjustly gives districts that contain prisons extra representation in the legislature. The Bureau’s accelerated release of 2010 group quarters table was hailed by Demos and the Prison Policy Initiative, two national non-partisan organizations working on state and local redistricting reform.

Under most state constitutions and election law statutes, a prison cell is not a residence, but existing Census Bureau practices count incarcerated people as residents of the prison location.

As a result of discussions last year between Census Director Robert Groves and Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay, Jr., Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives, the Census Bureau has now for the first time identified which census blocks contain group quarters, such as correctional facilities, early enough that state and local redistricting bodies can choose to use this data to draw fair districts.

In the past, states and counties that wished to correct this overrepresentation of districts with prisons had received little support from the Census Bureau, as the Bureau traditionally published the prison populations at the census block level long after redistricting is underway or completed.

“The Census Bureau has taken an important step toward recognizing the need for improved data on incarcerated populations so that states can end the practice of prison-based gerrymandering,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. “States and local governments that have been struggling to correct distorted redistricting figures are eagerly looking forward to this data.”

Advocates had earlier urged the Census to determine the home addresses of incarcerated people and count them there, but it was too late in the 2010 Census planning to change that. This interim solution of releasing accelerated data identifying prison populations will assist governments that wish to make their own adjustments for state and local redistricting. Legislation to make such adjustments was enacted last year in Maryland, New York and Delaware, and is currently under consideration in several states including in Illinois, Rhode Island and Oregon.

In past years, state legislative districts in many states have had prison populations large enough to run afoul of constitutional “one person, one vote” standards. Local county and municipal districts have seen even greater distortions, with many districts having more incarcerated people than voters. These states and localities can now more readily identify the prison populations before drawing district lines, and make appropriate adjustments to avoid distortions in representation.

“For too long, communities with large prisons have received greater representation in government on the backs of people who have no voting rights in the prison community and are not considered legal residents of the prison district for any other purpose. The Census Bureau’s new data will greatly assist states and localities in correcting this injustice and drawing fair and accurate districts that honor the principle of one person, one vote,” said Brenda Wright, Director of the Democracy Program at Demos.

While hailing the Census Bureau’s first step toward improving its practices on counting incarcerated persons, advocates are engaged in a longer-term campaign to encourage the Bureau to implement a more permanent solution under which the decennial census would count incarcerated persons at their home locations.

The new data has been published on the Census Bureau’s Redistricting Data Office website at To make this data easier to use by redistricting professionals and democracy advocates, the Prison Policy Initiative will be producing shapefiles later today with the group quarters data and making a web-based database of annotations available to the public at In addition, Demos and PPI have a publication, Preventing Prison-Based Gerrymandering in Redistricting: What to Watch For, which provides guidance on how advocates and map-drawers can minimize the impact of prison-based gerrymandering when redrawing state and local district lines.


by Aleks Kajstura, April 11, 2011

Oneida County, in upstate New York, would like to avoid prison-based gerrymandering when drawing their county Board of Legislators’ districts. Their Senator, however, was one of the nine that filed a law suit that is not only holding up their redistricting process, but threatens to force Oneida, as well as other counties across the state, to draw districts distorted by prison populations.

Robert Brauchle’s State debate over prisoners muddies county’s redistricting talks, published in the Observer-Dispatch, explains the problem:

In Oneida County Legislator David Wood’s district, about two-thirds of his constituents can go grocery shopping, drive a car and vote.

The remaining third are locked in prison cells.

Now, as the county prepares for the upcoming redistricting process to determine the boundaries for the Board of Legislators’ districts, officials are becoming increasingly unnerved about the partisan debate in Albany that will affect where those prisoners are counted.

A law signed by former-Gov. David Paterson in August counts prisoners in their pre-arrest locations during the redistricting process. Previously they had been counted in the location where they were incarcerated.

That change would impact the county Reapportionment Committee’s ongoing redistricting work to address population shifts within the county and to make the population even in each district.

But state Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, along with eight other Senate Republicans, have filed a lawsuit against the Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment and the state Department of Correctional Services to overturn the 2010 redistricting law.

“It’s not like they come here, and everything is self contained,” he said. “There’s a draw on resources and a cost to them being here.”

Until the process in the state Legislature plays out, the roughly 4,500 state prisoners in Oneida County will remain in limbo over whether they should officially be recorded as citizens in their location of incarceration or their pre-arrest homes.

Wood, the county Board of Legislators majority leader, said he would like to see prisoners counted at their pre-arrest locations.

“If we have to count them out of the cells, then we’ll do it that way,” said Wood, R-Rome, who represents a district that includes Mohawk Correctional Facility and Oneida Correctional Facility. “But this is stalling us right now in some bureaucratic time warp that we can’t get out of.”

Ramon Velasquez, of VOCAL, also responds to the law suit in an informative article that gives a first-person account of experiences with prison-based gerrymandering in the state, as well as some background on the issue.

Prison-based gerrymandering is not just a problem in New York; The Star Press highlights a similar example of grappling with the issue in Henry County, Indiana.

by Peter Wagner, April 5, 2011

Somebody wants to bring prison-based gerrymandering back to New York. But who?

It’s not the 13 upstate New York counties that have historically rejected the idea of using prison populations to pad some legislative districts with prisons at the expense of all other districts. In fact, one of those counties even passed a local law declaring that:

“Persons incarcerated in state and federal correctional institutions live in a separate environment, do not participate in the life of Essex County and do not affect the social and economic character of the towns…. The inclusion of these federal and state correctional facility inmates unfairly dilutes the votes or voting weight of persons residing in other towns within Essex County….”

It’s not the editorial board of the Times Herald-Record in Orange County New York which editorialized that:

“… a politician should be embarrassed to claim that people held in prisons should count as constituents.”

And it’s not the editorial board of the Observer-Dispatch in Oneida County, which was outraged to learn about the extent of prison-based gerrymandering in local city and county government:

“In January, it was reported that the 6,000-plus prison inmates at Oneida County’s four prisons are factored into population totals for county legislative districts in Marcy and Rome. Meanwhile, in the city of Rome, nearly half the people in the Second Ward are prisoners. That means a non-prisoner in the Second Ward has twice the clout on the Common Council over a resident in another part of the city. That’s wrong.”

The paper ended their editorial with an unsuccessful call for a particular important person to support New York’s landmark law to end prison-based gerrymandering.

So if the upstate county governments think prison-based gerrymandering is a bad idea, and if the upstate editorial boards think prison-based gerrymandering is unfair, is there any group that may have a different perspective?

The video below explains which group sees enough self-interest in prison-based gerrymandering to want to file a lawsuit to bring back the repugnant practice:

by Andrew Adams, March 16, 2011

article thumbnailAs the Census Bureau was just beginning its count last year, State Rep. LaShawn Ford, a Chicago Democrat, sponsored a bill to correct prison-based gerrymandering in Illinois.

Jessica Pupovac, in a February 2010 article in Illinois Issues, wrote that:

50,000 prisoners throughout Illinois will be counted at [prisons located] in communities where they are unlikely to ever cast a ballot, send a child to school or access social services.

Now, a year later with the census complete, Rep. Ford’s bill is again live in the House.

Pupovac interviews U.S. Census Bureau’s Jim Dinwiddie who explains, “We’ve been doing that the same way since 1790.”

The Census Bureau has always counted prisoners at the location of the prison, but only recently in the era of mass incarceration has this effected legislative districts. For example, Lee County is comprised of four districts, each containing about 9,000 people. But the population of one of Lee’s districts is 25% prisoners. 75 voters in the district containing the prison have the same voting power as 100 voters in the other districts.

Nonetheless, Dinwiddie told Pupovac:

The main thing is that everybody understands this is how we do it, and then they can interpret the data the way they interpret the data. States may want to look at how they do their districting or fund allocation within the state. Maybe they want to exclude populations…. That’s up to them.

So Rep. Ford’s proposed legislation is fine with the Census Bureau. In fact, Pupovac tells us that, “At least seven counties in Illinois – Logan, Christian, LaSalle, Livingston, Crawford, Fulton and Knox – have taken it upon themselves to tweak their population figures so that prison populations simply aren’t included in city and county districting.”

Moreover, Illinois courts have already said that an inmate isn’t a resident of the prison. County of Franklin v. County of Henry, take this obvious point and make it explicit: “a person confined in prison under the judgment and sentence of a court does not thereby change his residence.”

41% of Illinois’ 50,000 inmates are from Chicago’s Cook County, but 90% of these inmates are incarcerated downstate. As Pupovac points out:

In 20 Illinois counties, more than half of the black population reported in the census as local residents are in fact incarcerated people from elsewhere in the state.


95 percent of the state and federal prison cells are located in disproportionately white counties.

Rep. Ford points out what many are already thinking:

It erodes minority influence in government. You have to have good representation for all people in government. That’s why it’s there. And if you don’t have everyone represented, then it’s not a good representative government.

Who would oppose such sensible legislation? Pupovac’s article points to State Rep. John Cavaletto, a Republican from downstate Salem whose district includes a prison population of about 3,500 prisoners.

Cavaletto offers two reasons to ignore existing state law and oppose Rep. Ford’s legislation. First, Cavaletto argues that counting incarcerated people in their home communities is “nothing more than a grab for representation.”

The real grab for representation is in Cavaletto’s district. Their votes have more power than their neighbors in other rural districts that don’t contain a prison.

Cavaletto insinuates that should prisoners be counted at home, his district, which already benefits from “extra representation”, will lose out on valuable federal and state funds. As Pupovac writes, “He fears that any changes in population could negatively affect the already struggling, rural communities he represents.” The bill, however, does not apply to federal or state funding.

Ford, the Chicago Rep. who sponsored the legislation, said:

Contrary to popular perception, most inmates serve short sentences, and [when they return home], many of them struggle to find the resources they need to avoid going back to prison.

So why does Cavaletto think that his struggling, rural white constituents deserve representation on the back of Ford’s struggling, urban, and largely black constituents?

“Members of communities I represent put themselves in harm’s way every day guarding Illinois’ most dangerous criminals,” says Cavaletto.

It’s clear to me that while Cavaletto is fighting to have these “dangerous criminals” bussed to his district, he only wants prisoners for their sheer numbers, not as constituents. As Pam Karlan wrote, because electoral districts are based on population, people in prison serve as essentially inert ballast in the redistricting process.

by Josina Morita, March 15, 2011

The Census Bureau released the data for Illinois last month, and redistricting for the state and many county governments is underway. Unfortunately, the data has a systematic flaw: the census counts incarcerated people as residents of the prison address, not as residents of their legal home addresses. Our state legislature and county governments must choose between correcting the census or diluting the votes of their own constituents. The practice of miscounting incarcerated persons as “residents” of a prison—which Illinois courts are clear is not a legal residence for redistricting—when drawing legislative districts in order to give extra influence to the districts that contain the prisons is called prison-based gerrymandering. It’s a problem that has until recently gone unnoticed, but can be easily addressed by excluding prisoners from census counts – a perfectly legal solution that many states and local governments have started to do. Illinois should pass HB 94 and join other states that have passed bills to end prison-based gerrymandering and ensure fair representation for all of its residents. In the past year, Maryland, Delaware, and New York have all passed bills outlawing prison-based gerrymandering; similar bills are under consideration in Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, and Oregon as well. Illinois should be the next to outlaw prison-based gerrymandering. House Bill 94 is under consideration in Springfield right now.

Should 49 people have the same voting power as 2,407? That’s the question that advocates of ending prison-based gerrymandering are asking.

Rural Illinois may provide the most striking example yet of prison-based gerrymandering in the entire nation. Lawrence County, Illinois looks likes it’s on the upswing with a 9% population growth rate, three times higher than the growth rate for the entire state. And it looks like it’s becoming a more attractive place to live for African-Americans with a 1,243% increase in African-Americans since 2000. But look a little closer. The Lawrence Correctional Center opened after the last census, holding 2,358 prisoners, over 1,400 of which were African-American. Those prisoners were counted in Lawrence County in the 2010 census, and will be counted there in the current redistricting process, diluting the voting strength of voters everywhere in the state.

Prison-based gerrymandering will dramatically impact Lawrence County’s redistricting. Those counted in the county, including prisoners, will be divided into 7 board districts of 2,407 people each. The district near the prison will only contain 49 people who can actually vote. The people who live next to Lawrence Correctional Center will have almost fifty times the voting power over the county board as other residents. People who live immediately adjacent to prisons shouldn’t have more influence in local government than those who happen to live in the same community but a little further away from the prison.

Last spring, my organization, the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations, brought more than 300 people to Springfield to lobby for a bill that would have ended the anti-democratic practice of prison-based gerrymandering. We tried to persuade the state government to put an end to unfair redistricting in 2011 before it even got started. The legislature declined to pass the bill, and unless action is taken soon, democracy will suffer all over Illinois in places just like Lawrence County. Lawrence County isn’t unique, either. Of the 40 state prisons, most are located in rural downstate communities.

When legislators use those prison counts to draw state, county or municipal districts, they – unintentionally or not – give extra influence to the district with the prison at the expense of the residents of other districts throughout the state hat have the required number of people. Illinois law bars prisoners from the polls, but crediting them to the wrong districts results in a systematic shift in political power in Illinois.

The Prison Policy Initiative found that 11 of Illinois’ downstate districts include substantial prison populations, and if redrawn, district boundaries would have to change throughout the state. An even larger impact is seen in 4 rural counties, where the prison populations make up 18-25% of a single district, giving the residents of that district more influence on the county board than their neighbors. Peter Wagner has also remarked on the irony that some of the state legislators who support prison-based gerrymandering represent rural counties and cities that have quietly refused to engage in prison-based gerrymandering. When they draw their own districts, these rural counties and cities reject the idea of basing districts on the Census Bureau’s prison counts. Fundamentally, they protect their residents’ voting rights. Representatives in Springfield must be encouraged to follow the lead of these model counties and cities.

Ending the prison miscount gives communities with prisons a better understanding of what’s happening in their backyards, too. If the prisoners were excluded from the census, it’d be clear that Lawrence County actually lost residents. By looking only at the census numbers, it also looks like Lawrence County gained 1,490 African-American residents – but all of those are prisoners. Excluding prisoners from the census counts and ending prison-based gerrymandering helps all of us figure out what’s really going in our communities.

In 2008, the New York Times chronicled prison-based gerrymandering in the small rural town of Anamosa, Iowa, where residents whose town district contained a state penitentiary had 25 times the voting power in local elections as residents in other districts. The problem in Lawrence County, Illinois could be twice as dramatic as that in Iowa. Should the people who live next to Lawrence Correctional Center have nearly 50 times more say in local government than those who live further away from the prison?

The Illinois legislature should pass House Bill 94 to end to the prison miscount. The legislature should do this because it’s fair. It should pass the bill to protect the democratic principle of one person, one vote. They should pass it for those living in Lawrence County, and throughout the state that have the right to equal and fair representation.

Josina Morita is Executive Coordinator of the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations. Last spring, the United Congress organized more than 300 people to go to Springfield and lobby for legislation that would have ended prison-based gerrymandering in the state. The legislature failed to pass the proposed legislation, but the struggle continues.

by Brenda Wright and Peter Wagner, February 23, 2011

Prison-based gerrymandering is the practice of counting incarcerated persons as “residents” of a prison when drawing legislative districts in order to give extra influence to the districts that contain the prisons. The U.S. Constitution requires that election districts be roughly equal in size, so that everyone is represented equally in the political process. But prison-based gerrymandering distorts our democracy by artificially inflating the population numbers — and thus, the political clout — of districts with prisons, while diluting the political power of all other voters.

That this problem exists at all is largely an accident of two facts: (1) an outdated Census Bureau methodology that counts people in prison as residents of the correctional facilities, not of their legal home addresses; and (2) the skyrocketing rates of incarceration. Hopefully, in the future, the Census Bureau will eliminate the problem by counting incarcerated people as residents of their legal home addresses. Last year, three states — Maryland, Delaware and New York — had the foresight to pass legislation to eliminate prison-based gerrymandering within their borders. These three states now require that districts be based on Census data adjusted to reflect incarcerated people at their home addresses. More than a hundred rural counties and municipalities around the country have historically refused to engage in prison-based gerrymandering; they manually remove prison populations prior to drawing districts for local government. But most states and jurisdictions will still face the problem of prison-based gerrymandering in the upcoming round of redistricting.

When your legislature announces a proposed redistricting plan and invites public comment, you’ll need to act quickly to identify if and exactly how they used prisons to distort democracy in your state, county or city. This guide will tell you what to look for in the data and the state’s proposed plan in order to minimize the harm of prison-based gerrymandering.

(This guide assumes you have a mapping staff or sympathetic technical people on the redistricting body to assist you. Your technical allies can refer to our memo, Using the Census Bureau’s Advanced Group Quarters Table, which explains the timing, value, content and limitations of the Bureau’s prison count data.)

Protecting minority voting strength

Sometimes, a district that seems to have a majority-minority population really doesn’t, because of prison-based gerrymandering. If the minority “population” of the district consists of large number of incarcerated persons – who can’t vote – the district population numbers may be distorted. This creates districts that appear to give minorities the ability to elect the candidate of their choice, but in reality, they cannot. You need to examine any majority-minority district that includes a prison, to ensure that the district really has enough voting-eligible persons of color to create a viable majority with the ability to elect a candidate of choice to office.

Example: In order to settle a Voting Rights Act lawsuit, Somerset County Maryland intended to draw a district where African-Americans could elect a candidate of their choice after the 1990 and 2000 Censuses. But the inclusion of a large prison in the 1st Commission District split the sizable African-American resident voting population between two districts, leaving neither district able to elect a candidate of the African-American community’s choice. While the 1st Commission District appeared to be majority-African-American, in reality the district was not able to function as intended, because many of the purported African-American “residents” of the district were actually behind bars.

Similarly, although to different effect, prison populations sometimes create a false picture of racial and ethnic “diversity” within a district. Pointing out these examples is an effective way to raise the issue of prison-based gerrymandering and can be a powerful fact to raise if, as discussed in the next section, the state has under-populated districts that contain prisons.

Example: District 2B in Western Maryland drawn after the 2000 Census appears to be 15% African-American. But nearly all of that African-American population actually consists of incarcerated residents from other parts of the state who are unable to vote or to interact with the community in any way. The actual population of the district is overwhelmingly white.

Example: In 2002, the New York State Senate deliberately underpopulated districts in the upstate region while overpopulating districts in the downstate region. This problem ran parallel to the fact that the Census Bureau credited downstate residents to upstate census counts, and together served to dilute minority voting rights. For example, one of those upstate districts was the 59th Senate District, drawn to contain 294,256 people instead of the 306,072 that each district should have contained. Using Census data, the state reported that the district contained 6,273 African Americans, but three quarters of this population was incarcerated residents of other parts of the state. The legislature used the prison population to disguise the fact that the district had the smallest African-American population of any senate district in the state and they deliberately underpopulated that district to give it extra influence.

Keeping prison-based gerrymandering from making other malapportionment issues worse

Advocates should examine what percentage of each district is actually incarcerated, and how that interacts with the existing population deviations in the proposed districts. Keep in mind that in the strange world of redistricting, “underpopulated” districts have more political power than “overpopulated” districts, because in underpopulated districts, fewer people get the same opportunity to elect a representative as a larger number of people crowded into an “overpopulated” district. For that reason, a district that nominally falls within the 5% deviation rule applicable to state and local districts, but would fall outside that deviation without the prison population, should raise a red flag, and should be examined carefully to determine if the deviation should be reduced. Apart from that specific situation, any districts having large prisons should be scrutinized to avoid underpopulation of such districts compared to ideal district size, because including prison population magnifies the underpopulation of the district.

Note that the inverse is also a concern, even if we don’t have precise block-level data about the pre-incarceration home residence of people in prison who are currently being counted as “residents” of prisons. For example, you can use the fact that incarcerated people should have been counted at home to argue against extreme overpopulation of urban districts where incarcerated people disproportionately come from.

Limiting the vote enhancement in districts with prisons

Advocates should consider whether, if insufficient time remains to collect the home addresses of incarcerated people for this round of redistricting, the legislature can be persuaded to declare all incarcerated people to live at “unknown addresses” and not include them in the individual districts that contain prisons. (See Interview with Justin Levitt of the Brennan Center for Justice for more on why “unknown addresses” is superior to the Census Bureau’s status quo. )

If the legislature will not consider removing the prison populations from individual districts, advocates should examine ways to limit the magnitude of the vote enhancement to each district that contains a prison. Advocates should determine what percentage of each proposed district is actually incarcerated, and consider whether it is possible to configure the districts so that multiple large prisons are not concentrated in an individual district, thereby lessening the size of the vote enhancement in the prison districts. Similarly, if a single block contains a massive prison, advocates should consider whether the block could be split in two, so that the prison population can be placed in two different districts, thereby lessening the vote enhancement in any one district.


  • The Public Mapping Project is an open source redistricting package intended for shadow redistricting commissions and advocates. The software is building in support for advocates who wish to use alternative datasets, including Census data adjusted to remove prison populations, in their plans.
  • Using the Census Bureau’s Advanced Group Quarters Table
  • Data about prison-based gerrymandering, links to the database of historical (2005-2010) correctional statistics, and where, in May, we will post shapefiles with the Census Bureau’s group quarters data table and adjusted redistricting data that removes the prison populations and annotations of the blocks that contain correctional facilities with facility names, types, and more detailed demographic data.

Peter Wagner is Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative and Brenda Wright is director of the Democracy Program at Demos.

Actualización 28 de Marzo, 2012: Este articulo ahora está disponible en Español
Update March 28, 2012: This article is now available in Spanish.

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