by Peter Wagner, December 31, 2009

On Wednesday, Hugh Hamilton of WBAI NYC’s TalkBack! interviewed Demos’ Brenda Wright about prison-based gerrymandering in New York State. The 30 minute segment starts about 30 minutes in to the audio file. Among other topics, Brenda discusses why New York State law says that incarceration does not change a residence and the 13 rural counties that reject the Census Bureau’s prison count when drawing their own district lines.

This morning, Celeste Headlee interviewed Dodge County (Wisconsin) Supervisor Jim Layman and myself on the national morning news program The Take Away. Half of Jim Layman’s county legislative district is incarcerated, and he says the Census is wrong to count incarcerated people from other parts of the state in his district. I discussed the national, state and local efforts to eliminate prison based gerrymandering. The 6 minute segment starts about 22 minutes in to the file.

by Peter Wagner, December 28, 2009

A number of new articles and resources about prison-based gerrymandering were posted over the long holiday weekend.

The Brennan Center’s Justin Levitt gave a speech to the International Municipal Lawyers’ Association in Columbia, SC on alternative voting systems and the count of incarcerated persons in redistricting. The text of Justin Levitt’s talk is on the Brennan Center website.

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by Peter Wagner, December 17, 2009

The Washington Post reports:

A coalition of African American leaders concerned about minorities being undercounted in the 2010 Census called Wednesday for inmates at federal and state prisons to be tallied in their home communities instead of the towns where they are incarcerated.

Marc Morial at National Press Club

National Urban League CEO Marc Morial
at National Press Club.
Photo: Michael Connor/Washington Times

Commerce Department Secretary Gary Locke met with a dozen African-American leaders including the National Urban League, the NAACP, and the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. At a press conference afterwards, Marc H. Morial, president of the National Urban League and chairman of a census advisory committee, raised prison-based gerrymandering as one of the issues of Census Bureau policy affecting African-Americans that should be changed.

He said that crediting incarcerated people to the prison where they are incarcerated but do not legally reside disorts fair representation:

Noting that about 1.2 million of the nation’s 40 million African Americans are in prison, Morial said, “What we have in the prison population issue is a built-in undercount.”

Morial and about a dozen other black leaders brought up the prison count during a meeting with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to discuss how to make the census more accurate, a perennial problem.

See: Black leaders urge census to change how it counts inmates by Carol Morello, Washington Post and Blacks urge more efforts to improve census count by Hope Yen, Associated Press. Both articles were on December 17, 2009.

by Peter Wagner, December 16, 2009

The 2010 Census is almost here, and the Prison Policy Initiative needs your support.

The financial and moral support of the people who read this blog has helped to propel the once obscure issue of prison-based gerrymandering into the national consciousness.

Despite our progress over the last 7 years, the Census will again be counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison towns, shifting political power to legislative districts that contain prisons.

If we act fast, short-term solutions are still possible. We are working with states, counties, and redistricting experts to develop ways that they can adjust the Census Bureau’s prison count prior to redistricting and thereby minimize the negative effects of the prison miscount.

Interest in prison-based gerrymandering is rising quickly. In the months ahead, we’ll be harnessing the national excitement around the 2010 Census to educate the nation about the issue of prison-based gerrymandering and to encourage the Census Bureau to commit to changing how incarcerated people are counted in the future.

We need your continued support to do this. We’ve received some generous foundation support in the last few months that has enabled us to expand our staff, and we need your help to raise the last of the funds we need for our final push.

The Prison Policy Initiative is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, so gifts can be tax-deductible. We can accept checks to Prison Policy Initiative PO Box 127 Northampton MA 01061 or with a credit card via Network for Good.

The Census is almost here. The time to shape the debate around the 2010 Census is now. If you can again help support our work, please do so today.

Thank you!

Matt Kelley on puts the prison miscount in the context of why an accurate Census matters to urban communities.

by Peter Wagner, December 16, 2009

Matt Kelley puts prison-based gerrymandering in the context of why an accurate Census matters to urban communities on

The 2010 U.S. Census is about to hit full swing, and it’s critical that we commit to counting everyone.

The most directly pertinent census issue to the criminal justice system is the colossal mistake of counting prisoners where they’re incarcerated instead of where they’re from.

As Elena Lavarreda wrote recently in an excellent piece on, counting prisoners in rural districts gives undue political influence to farmlands while robbing power from poor inner-city populations. This is a critical issue and it needs to be addressed.

But there’s a broader issue, too. Not only will poor urban communities be counted without their prisoners, they’ll also be missing more than a million people the census classifies as Hard to Count. This includes people with no fixed address, or people who stay in a public housing unit but aren’t on the lease. These are people who might not be around on the day the count happens, or might be suspicious of a guy from the government coming to count them. Every person the census misses means lost services for the community and exacerbates the cycle of poverty.

– The Vicious Cycle of the Census.

Elena Lavarreda explains how the Census Bureau's method of counting people in prison distorts democracy and changes criminal justice policy.

by Peter Wagner, November 30, 2009

Prison Policy Initiative Research Associate Elena Lavarreda has an article on No Census of Justice about how the Census Bureau’s method of counting people in prison distorts democracy and changes criminal justice policy.

The Daily Times on Maryland's Lower Eastern Shore has endorsed a call for Somerset County to base future legislative districts on the resident population.

by Peter Wagner, November 24, 2009

The Daily Times in Salisbury, Maryland on the Lower Eastern Shore, has endorsed a call for Somerset County to base future county legislative districts on the resident — not prison — population.

An NAACP- and ACLU-led group of county leaders and community members, called the Somerset County Task Force on Diversity, has called for the county to explore the possibility of disregarding the population at the state prison when the county next updates its county legislative lines after the 2010 Census. The local newspaper has endorsed this call because over 40 percent of the county’s population is African-American, but no African-American has ever been elected to the county commission. The county agreed to settle a voting rights lawsuit and draw a majority African-American district in the mid-1980s. Unfortunately, a new large prison in the remedial district resulted in the African-American resident population being split among multiple districts, leaving the county without a true majority African-American district.

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The New York City Council holds a hearing on prison-based gerrymandering, supporting change at the Census Bureau and in Albany.

by Peter Wagner, November 20, 2009

Yesterday, the New York City Council held a hearing on two prison-based gerrymandering resolutions. One, put forth by member Larry Seabrook calls on the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people as residents of their home addresses rather than at the prisons in future Censuses. The second one, introduced by member Robert Jackson and 11 co-sponsors could influence the 2012 round of redistricting after this Census, as it calls upon the New York State legislature to pass bills S1633 and A5946 which would require that state and county legislative districts be drawn on adjusted data counting incarcerated people at their home addresses.

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by Peter Wagner, November 12, 2009

County Supervisors in Wilkinson County, Mississippi faced a quandary after the last census. The Corrections Corporation of America had just opened a large private prison in the county, and, per its usual practice, the Census Bureau credited the population of the prison to the county.

Should the county draw a county legislative district where almost half of the population was incarcerated in the private prison? This would give the actual residents of the prison district almost twice as much influence over county affairs as residents of the other districts. They wrote to State Attorney General Mike Moore to seek his advice.

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by Peter Wagner, November 12, 2009

The New York Times is calling for the New York state legislature to turn the process of drawing legislative districts over to an Iowa-style non-partisan independent redistricting commission.

They explain the need:

Of all the tricks that New York’s legislators use to hang on to office, the one that works best — for the politicians, that is — is redistricting. Mapmaking in Albany is a dark art form designed to make absolutely certain that incumbents in the majority party are safe from electoral competition (a k a democracy).

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