February 2013 stakeholder's letter

February 14, 2013

Thomas Mesenbourg
Acting Director, U.S. Census Bureau
4600 Silver Hill Road
Washington, DC 20233

Dear Acting Director Mesenbourg,

We are writing about the consequences of the Census Bureau’s policy of tabulating incarcerated people as residents of prison locations, rather than at their home addresses. We write as organizations with an interest in ensuring fair and equitable representation for all people and communities.

We are concerned that the Census Bureau’s tabulation procedures distort the redistricting process, giving extra political influence to people who live near prisons while diluting the votes of residents in every other legislative district. This practice skews democracy on both the state and local levels and is especially problematic for county and city governments, where a single prison can easily make up the majority of a district.

We know that even though the next census is seven years away, planning is already underway. For that reason, we urge the Bureau to conduct the research necessary at this early point in the planning process to ensure that the 2020 census can count incarcerated people at their home addresses.

As you know, the Census Bureau’s current “residence rules” instruct the Bureau to tabulate incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, even though incarcerated people are not considered residents of the prison location for other purposes. At the time of the nation’s first census, the question of where incarcerated people were counted was of little importance because very few people were behind bars. Today, nearly 1 percent of the U.S. adult population is incarcerated. By designating a prison cell as a residence, the Census Bureau concentrates a population that is disproportionately male, urban, and African-American or Latino in approximately 1,500 federal and state prisons that are far from their home communities.

Failing to count incarcerated people at home for redistricting purposes undermines the constitutional guarantee of “one person, one vote”, with critical implications for the health of our democracy. When the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people at the location of the facility, state or local governments that use “unadjusted” census data for redistricting grant extra weight to the votes of residents who live near the prison and dilute the votes of residents who do not. As the National Research Council of the National Academies reported in 2006, “[t]he evidence of political inequities in redistricting that can arise due to the counting of prisoners at the prison location is compelling.”[1]

Over the past decade, a growing number of stakeholders have urged the Bureau to update the “usual residence rule” to allow incarcerated persons to be tabulated as residents of their home addresses. Although much of this feedback was received too late to influence 2010 census planning, we commend the Bureau for making a useful change in the short time available: creating the Advance Group Quarters Summary File, which was released early in order to allow jurisdictions to identify and remove incarcerated populations for the purposes of drawing their new districts.

The overwhelming national trend is towards adjusting the census data used for redistricting purposes, but more progress is necessary. Four states, containing 21 percent of the U.S. population, passed legislation to adjust census data on their own. Both Maryland and New York passed legislation in time to reallocate incarcerated people to their home addresses for the most recent round of redistricting, and Maryland’s law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.[2] Similarly, more than 200 counties and municipalities that contain prisons made their own adjustments to avoid drawing districts that give extra influence to those who live near prisons.

As former Census Bureau Director Robert Groves explained, the Bureau “re-evaluate[s] our ‘residence rules’ after each census, to keep pace with changes in the society. We’ll do that again after the 2010 Census.”[3] The interim measures taken by the Census Bureau and by individual state and local governments exhibit variety and creativity, but now the time is ripe for the Bureau to enact a national solution by changing how it tabulates incarcerated people.

We recognize that the Census Bureau seeks to conduct the fairest, most accurate, and most efficient census possible, and we understand that this undertaking requires decade-long preparations. We therefore urge you, in your research and planning for the 2020 census, to make developing a methodology to tabulate incarcerated people at their home addresses a near-term priority.

Such a change would provide a standardized national solution to the problem of redistricting distortion due to the tabulation of incarcerated populations, and would relieve state and local governments alike from undertaking piecemeal adjustments on their own. We urge you to take this window of opportunity when procedures for the next Census are being developed to ensure that the 2010 census will be the last to tabulate two million people outside their home communities.

We thank you for your careful consideration of this issue.


A Better Way Foundation

A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment & Healing)

Advancement Project

All of Us or None

American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD)

American Civil Liberties Union

American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut

American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland

American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts

American Federation of Teachers

American Friends Service Committee, Arizona Area

American Friends Service Committee, Healing Justice Program - Northeast Region


Anahola Homesteaders Council

Architects / Designers / Planners for Social Responsibility

ARISE - A Regional Initiative Supporting Empowerment

Arise for Social Justice

Arkansas Voices for the Children Left Behind

Asian American Justice Center

Black and Pink

Black Leadership Forum

Black Student Alliance at Yale

Boston Workers Alliance

Brennan Center for Justice

Bronx Reentry Working Group

California Prison Moratorium Project

Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB)

Campaign for Youth Justice

Campaign to End the Death Penalty

Campaign to End The New Jim Crow

Casa De Esperanza

Celebrities For Justice

Center for Community Alternatives

Center For Law And Social Justice, Medgar Evers College, CUNY

Center for Living and Learning

Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions

Central Appalachian Prisoner Support Network

Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice

Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Inc.

Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM)

Citizen Action of NY

Citizens Against Recidivism, Inc.

Citizens Union

Civic Trust Public Lobbying Company

Coalition for Effective Public Safety in Massachusetts

Coalition for Prisoners' Rights

College and Community Fellowship

Common Cause

Common Cause California

Common Cause Connecticut

Common Cause Minnesota

Common Cause New York

Common Cause Rhode Island

Communities Against the Prison Industrial Complex

Community Action Partnership

Community Alliance on Prisons

Community Alliance on Prisons - Maui Chapter

Community Party - Hartford, CT

Conservatives for Social Change

Correctional Association of New York

Cover Girls For Change

Creative Empowerment NFP

Crossroad Bible Institute

CURE - Alabama

CURE - Colorado

CURE - FACES-New Mexico

CURE - Louisiana

CURE - Michigan

CURE - Nevada

CURE - New Mexico

CURE - New York

CURE - SORT - Sex Abuse Treatment Alliance

CURE - Virginia

CURE - Women Incarcerated

CURE International

Democracy North Carolina


Direct Action for Rights & Equality

Disability Rights Vermont

Drug Policy Alliance


Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN)


Families & Allies of Virginia's Youth


Fight For Lifers West, Inc.

Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People’s Movement

Gambill on Justice

Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Getting Answers 4 U

Grassroots Leadership

Greenpoint Legacy, LLC

Healing Communities Network

Health through Walls

Human Rights Defense Center

Insight Prison Project

Integrated Justice Alliance of New Jersey

International Community Corrections Association

J. B. Charlex

John Howard Association of Illinois

Just Detention International

Just Do What Works

Justice for Families

Justice Now

Justice Policy Institute

Justice Strategies

Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana

Kalpulli Turtle Island Multiversity

LatinoJustice PRLDEF

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

League of Women Voters of the United States

Legal Action Center

Legal Services for Prisoners with Children


Lifers' Group, Inc.



Middle Ground Prison Reform

Minnesota Second Chance Coalition


NAACP Legal Defense Fund

NAACP National Voter Fund

NALEO Educational Fund

National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc.

National Alliance For Prisoners Rights (NAFPR)

National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

National Association of Social Workers

National Council for Urban Peace and Justice

National Employment Law Project

National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated (formerly Family and Corrections Network)

National Urban League

National Welfare Rights Union

New Jersey Association on Correction

New Jersey Tenants Organization

New Vision Organization, Inc.

Nonprofit VOTE

Norfolk Lifers' Group

Ohio Justice and Policy Center

Ohio Voter Fund

Out Now

Papa Ola Lokahi (Native Hawaiian Health Board)

Partnership for Safety and Justice

Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project

Pennsylvania Prison Society

Philadelphia Jewish Voice

Philly Jail Support Collective

Picture Projects Inc.

Poverty & Race Research Action Council

Prison Action Network

Prison Families Anonymous

Prison Policy Initiative

Prisoners Are People Too, Inc.

Prisoners' Legal Services of Massachusetts

Prisoners' Legal Services of New York

Prisons Foundation

Progressive Public Affairs

Project Vote

Public Policy and Education Fund of NY

Racial Justice Action Center

Racial Justice Project at New York Law School

Racial Profiling Grassroots Organization of Kansas

Reconciliation, Inc.

Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged (RIHD)

Sagewriters & the Global Kindness Revolution

Solid Ground

Solidarity Committee of the Capital District

Southeast Michigan Census Council

Southern Center for Human Rights

Southern Coalition for Social Justice

Statewide Poverty Action Network

Still Here Harlem Productions, Inc.



Students for Social Justice and Institutional Change, Smith College

TakeAction Minnesota

Tamms Year Ten

Target Area DevCorp

Texas Civil Rights Project

Texas Criminal Justice Coalition

Texas Jail Project

The Action Committee for Women In Prison

The Bridging Group

The Center for Church and Prison, Inc.

The Church of Gethsemane

The Fortune Society, Inc.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Lewisburg Prison Project

The Lionheart Foundation

The Minnesota Council on Crime and Justice

The Praxis Project

The Prison Birth Project

The Real Cost of Prisons Project

The Sentencing Project

The Springfield Institute

The Wei

U.S. Conference of Mayors

United Church of Christ/Justice and Witness Ministries

United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations

UO Prison Justice

Urban Justice Center

Voice of the Ex-offender

Voices Of Community Activists & Leaders (VOCAL-NY)

Voter's Legislative Transparency Project

W. Haywood Burns Institute

Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights


Women on the Rise Telling HerStory (WORTH)

Working Narratives

X-Offenders for Community Empowerment



[1] National Research Council, Once, Only Once, and in the Right Place (Washington DC: National Academies Press, 2006), 9.

[2] Fletcher v. Lamone, __ U.S. __, 2012 WL 1030482 (June 25, 2012).

[3] Robert Groves, "So, How do You Handle Prisons?", United States Census Bureau Director’s Blog, March 1, 2010.

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