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.

Continue reading →

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.

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