Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: District of Columbia

50 State Guide, March 2010

District of Columbia law says a prison cell is not a residence

Prison-based gerrymandering violates the constitutional principle of "One Person, One Vote." The Supreme Court requires districts to be based on equal population in order to give each resident the same access to government. But a longstanding flaw in the Census counts incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, even though they can’t vote and aren’t a part of the surrounding community.

When legislators claim people incarcerated in their districts are legitimate constituents, they award people who live close to the prison more of a say in government than everybody else.

District of Columbia law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • “No person shall be deemed to have gained or lost a residence by reason of absence while employed in the service of the District or the United States governments, while a student at any institution of learning, while kept at any institution at public expense, or while absent from the District with the intent to have the District remain his or her residence.”
    (D.C. Code § 1-1001.02(16)(E))


  • Ideally, the U.S. Census Bureau would change where it counts incarcerated people. They should be counted as residents of their home — not prison — addresses. The District of Columbia should ask the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people at home in the 2020 Census.

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