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 Change.org: 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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by Aleks Kajstura, November 6, 2009

The U.S. Census is once again gearing up to count incarcerated people in the wrong place. This census data is soon going to be used to redraw districts at all levels of government throughout the country.

In “What the census will get wrong,” Mary Sanchez, of the Kansas City Star, writes, emphasizing the inconsistency between the Census Bureau’s “patriotic pitches to comply,” and the Census’ method of counting people in prison. According to Sanchez, we’re told that “[e]very breathing soul must be tallied during the massive federal endeavor, the national headcount taken every decade. The census is central to the functioning of our democracy….”

Sanchez correctly notes, however, that the Census reassigns prison populations. The Census data allows legislative districts to pad their numbers using disenfranchised constituents pulled from remote cities. The communities that have high incarceration rates lose their currently incarcerated residents in this count. Sanchez writes:

Criminals forfeit a lot when they get locked up. They lose the right to vote, in all but two states. They lose daily interaction with loved ones and the chance to engage in meaningful work.

The communities of origin for those incarcerated should not be similarly punished.

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