Formal resolutions and recommendations from organizations and legislative bodies regarding prison-based gerrymandering are now compiled on our site.

by Aleks Kajstura, April 29, 2011

Many organizations and legislative bodies have made formal resolutions and recommendations critical of the Census Bureau’s prison count and condemning the practice of prison-based gerrymandering.

Our resolutions page gathers these resolutions from organizations like the NAACP, the Census Bureau’s own Advisory Committee, city councils and other local governments. This new page also has some sample resolutions that are a great starting-point for introducing a resolution in your organization or town, city, county or state legislature.

Hale County Judge Bill Coleman will avoid prison-based gerrymandering in redrawing the district lines for the County.

by Aleks Kajstura, April 28, 2011

One more county in Texas will now avoid prison-based gerrymandering, making sure that no resident is given extra clout just because they share a district with a prison. The Plainview Daily Herald reports: County judge will not consider prison population in county redistricting:

[Hale County Judge Bill] Coleman, who began his first term in January, acknowledged that he was stunned when he learned that fact, given that prisoners are convicted felons and cannot vote, and even if they could their place of legal residence is where they are from, not where they are incarcerated.

“It made no sense to me,” Coleman said.

[L]ocal Census data will include local prison populations, and that data isn’t always easy to find. The result is that either by accident or through unscrupulous motive, local governmental agencies will include those numbers of ineligible voters in their redistricting plans.
While accidental inclusion is a problem…, intentional inclusion can be a way to gerrymander voting precincts to achieve a certain goal.

For Coleman, the inclusion of the prison population in Hale County’s redistricting plan has never been an option, though. He made that clear when the issue first came up during a regular commissioners court meeting earlier this month, and he has not changed his position.

There would be no justifiable reason for including the prison population,” he said in a recent interview.

New York Times editorial calls for court to uphold law banning prison-based gerrymandering.

by Aleks Kajstura, April 25, 2011

article thumbnail The New York Times has issued a strong editorial critical of state lawmakers who are challenging a law that bans prison-based gerrymandering. For more on the lawsuit, see last week’s newsletter and our blog. For our research cited in the editorial, see the New York Campaign page on our website.

Census Bureau released the Advance Group Quarters data, and our free tools make it easy to use to identify prison populations in redistricting data.

by Peter Wagner, April 22, 2011

The Census Bureau released the Advance Group Quarters yesterday — earlier than expected — and many have been eagerly awaiting this data so that they can identify prison populations in the redistricting data and avoid prison-based gerrymandering.

The Prison Policy Initiative, in partnership with Demos, issued a press release about the Advance Group Quarters File yesterday. A copy of the press release can be found below.

Late last night, the Prison Policy Initiative finished translating the Bureau’s data in to some user-friendlier formats, including:

  • A national shapefile with all of the group quarters data
  • Block level tables of the correctional facilities searchable by county
  • Google maps of the blocks that contain facilities
  • Connecting the new census data to a database of annotations of each of the 5,393 blocks that contain some kind of correctional facility.

These tools are available at Our next conference call workshop to discuss how to use this data to avoid prison-based gerrymandering will be at 10am eastern on Tuesday April 26.

New Data Will Boost State and Local Efforts to Draw Fairer Districts

April 20, 2011

Tim Rusch,, (212) 389-1307
Peter Wagner,, (413) 527-0845
Aleks Kajstura,, (413) 527-0845
Anna Pycior,, (212) 389-1408

Advocates Hail Census Bureau’s Release of Data to Assist in Correcting Prison-Based Gerrymandering;
New Data Will Boost State and Local Efforts to Draw Fairer Districts

New York, NY—Today, the Census Bureau released a new data product that will assist state and local governments in avoiding prison-based gerrymandering, a practice which unjustly gives districts that contain prisons extra representation in the legislature. The Bureau’s accelerated release of 2010 group quarters table was hailed by Demos and the Prison Policy Initiative, two national non-partisan organizations working on state and local redistricting reform.

Under most state constitutions and election law statutes, a prison cell is not a residence, but existing Census Bureau practices count incarcerated people as residents of the prison location.

As a result of discussions last year between Census Director Robert Groves and Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay, Jr., Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives, the Census Bureau has now for the first time identified which census blocks contain group quarters, such as correctional facilities, early enough that state and local redistricting bodies can choose to use this data to draw fair districts.

In the past, states and counties that wished to correct this overrepresentation of districts with prisons had received little support from the Census Bureau, as the Bureau traditionally published the prison populations at the census block level long after redistricting is underway or completed.

“The Census Bureau has taken an important step toward recognizing the need for improved data on incarcerated populations so that states can end the practice of prison-based gerrymandering,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. “States and local governments that have been struggling to correct distorted redistricting figures are eagerly looking forward to this data.”

Advocates had earlier urged the Census to determine the home addresses of incarcerated people and count them there, but it was too late in the 2010 Census planning to change that. This interim solution of releasing accelerated data identifying prison populations will assist governments that wish to make their own adjustments for state and local redistricting. Legislation to make such adjustments was enacted last year in Maryland, New York and Delaware, and is currently under consideration in several states including in Illinois, Rhode Island and Oregon.

In past years, state legislative districts in many states have had prison populations large enough to run afoul of constitutional “one person, one vote” standards. Local county and municipal districts have seen even greater distortions, with many districts having more incarcerated people than voters. These states and localities can now more readily identify the prison populations before drawing district lines, and make appropriate adjustments to avoid distortions in representation.

“For too long, communities with large prisons have received greater representation in government on the backs of people who have no voting rights in the prison community and are not considered legal residents of the prison district for any other purpose. The Census Bureau’s new data will greatly assist states and localities in correcting this injustice and drawing fair and accurate districts that honor the principle of one person, one vote,” said Brenda Wright, Director of the Democracy Program at Demos.

While hailing the Census Bureau’s first step toward improving its practices on counting incarcerated persons, advocates are engaged in a longer-term campaign to encourage the Bureau to implement a more permanent solution under which the decennial census would count incarcerated persons at their home locations.

The new data has been published on the Census Bureau’s Redistricting Data Office website at To make this data easier to use by redistricting professionals and democracy advocates, the Prison Policy Initiative will be producing shapefiles later today with the group quarters data and making a web-based database of annotations available to the public at In addition, Demos and PPI have a publication, Preventing Prison-Based Gerrymandering in Redistricting: What to Watch For, which provides guidance on how advocates and map-drawers can minimize the impact of prison-based gerrymandering when redrawing state and local district lines.


The prison population has grown in Lancaster Mass, and the town must add a new election precinct for them, even though they can't vote.

by Peter Wagner, April 12, 2011

Lynne Klaft reports in the Worcester Telegram that an increase in the prison population in the town of Lancaster Massachusetts is going to require creating a new election precinct for them, even though they can’t vote.

In Massachusetts, precincts are administrative units that determine where you vote, and Chapter 54 Section 6 of the Massachusetts General Laws defines certain maximum sizes for the precincts. In general, precincts can not have more than 4,000 people living in them. The 2,406 people incarcerated in two prisons put the town population at 8,055, or 55 people over the threshold for having two precincts.

Unless the law is quickly changed, the town must create a third precinct, hire more poll workers, purchase more equipment and other expenses. Our work to end prison-based gerrymandering focuses on the drawing of election districts like those in Gardner, not the impact of laws that regulate how crowded a precinct should be. But the story, New precinct needed for nonvoting population, is yet another interesting example of how the Census Bureau’s decision to count incarcerated people as residents of the prison location creates additional burdens on the electoral systems and processes of the localities that host correctional facilities.

Senators' law suit hurts their own constituents, as well as New York residents around the state.

by Aleks Kajstura, April 11, 2011

Oneida County, in upstate New York, would like to avoid prison-based gerrymandering when drawing their county Board of Legislators’ districts. Their Senator, however, was one of the nine that filed a law suit that is not only holding up their redistricting process, but threatens to force Oneida, as well as other counties across the state, to draw districts distorted by prison populations.

Robert Brauchle’s State debate over prisoners muddies county’s redistricting talks, published in the Observer-Dispatch, explains the problem:

In Oneida County Legislator David Wood’s district, about two-thirds of his constituents can go grocery shopping, drive a car and vote.

The remaining third are locked in prison cells.

Now, as the county prepares for the upcoming redistricting process to determine the boundaries for the Board of Legislators’ districts, officials are becoming increasingly unnerved about the partisan debate in Albany that will affect where those prisoners are counted.

A law signed by former-Gov. David Paterson in August counts prisoners in their pre-arrest locations during the redistricting process. Previously they had been counted in the location where they were incarcerated.

That change would impact the county Reapportionment Committee’s ongoing redistricting work to address population shifts within the county and to make the population even in each district.

But state Sen. Joseph Griffo, R-Rome, along with eight other Senate Republicans, have filed a lawsuit against the Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment and the state Department of Correctional Services to overturn the 2010 redistricting law.

“It’s not like they come here, and everything is self contained,” he said. “There’s a draw on resources and a cost to them being here.”

Until the process in the state Legislature plays out, the roughly 4,500 state prisoners in Oneida County will remain in limbo over whether they should officially be recorded as citizens in their location of incarceration or their pre-arrest homes.

Wood, the county Board of Legislators majority leader, said he would like to see prisoners counted at their pre-arrest locations.

“If we have to count them out of the cells, then we’ll do it that way,” said Wood, R-Rome, who represents a district that includes Mohawk Correctional Facility and Oneida Correctional Facility. “But this is stalling us right now in some bureaucratic time warp that we can’t get out of.”

Ramon Velasquez, of VOCAL, also responds to the law suit in an informative article that gives a first-person account of experiences with prison-based gerrymandering in the state, as well as some background on the issue.

Prison-based gerrymandering is not just a problem in New York; The Star Press highlights a similar example of grappling with the issue in Henry County, Indiana.

Advocates and governments eagerly await data that will help identify prison populations and avoid prison-based gerrymandering.

by Peter Wagner, April 11, 2011

On Friday, the Census Bureau announced in a Press Tip that the Advance Group Quarters Table will be out in late April:

Advance Group Quarters Summary File — This file contains one table showing
counts for seven types of group quarters from the 2010 Census. The
institutionalized group quarters categories include correctional facilities
for adults, juvenile facilities, nursing facilities/skilled-nursing
facilities and other institutional facilities; while the
noninstitutionalized group quarters categories include college/university
student housing, military quarters and other noninstitutional facilities.
Data are shown for states, counties, census tracts and blocks. This table
will only be available via the FTP site and is identical to table P42 in
Summary File 1 to be released this summer. (Scheduled for release in late

This is slightly earlier than expected, and great news for state and local governments that are redistricting on a tight timeline. For the first time, these governments will have know which census blocks contain prisons and the size of that population. They can then choose, if they wish, to remove that population or reallocate it to other addresses prior to drawing district lines.

The data will be available via links from the Redistricting Data Office page and that of the Count Question Resolution program. The Prison Policy Initiative will be producing, hopefully within a few hours of the release, shapefile versions of the data and making our database of annotations accessible to the public.

For more information, see:

Opposition is heard as some state legislators file suit to force prison-based gerrymandering on all New York State residents.

by Aleks Kajstura, April 7, 2011

As the Prison Policy Initiative, Demos, Common Cause/NY, and the Brennan Center publish press releases responding to the lawsuit that seeks to return the practice of prison-based gerrymandering to New York, the press coverage is well on its way. Here is a sampling of recent news coverage of the developments:

The BedStuy Patch’s GOP State Senators File Law Suit Against Jeffries’s Prisoner Counting Law provides some background. Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries is quoted speaking against the suit:

“This lawsuit represents a transparent attempt to breathe life into the prison industrial complex, in order to exploit the continued criminalization of individuals who disproportionally come from low-income, urban communities of color….”

The Watertown Daily Times notes:

Opponents of that 2010 law call it unconstitutional gerrymandering. Supporters say that doing anything otherwise would be unconstitutional gerrymandering.

Interestingly, a majority of the local governments with prisons in the districts represented by the complaining legislators actually exclude the prison populations when redrawing their own districts. These State legislators are working to force their own constituents to engage in prison-based gerrymandering against their will.

And although the law does not change funding distributions – only how prison populations are used in redistricting – the discussion inevitably steers toward money. Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries, an original co-sponsor of the bill explains why talk of funding would be irrelevant anyway:

Racine County Supervisors are looking into ways to avoid prison-based gerrymandering for the coming decade.

by Aleks Kajstura, April 7, 2011

Wisconsin’s Racine County is discussing taking the prison population into account when drawing new districts. If the county includes the prison population in the local district, the district would derive 17% of its population from the prison. The County is considering how to avoid giving the actual residents of District 13 more representation in county government than residents who live in every other one of the County’s supervisor districts. The Journal Times reports:

County Supervisor Ken Lumpkin, whose district includes the Racine Youthful Offender Correctional Facility, 1501 Albert St., is concerned that counting the inmates at the facility unfairly affects his district….

“It’s unfair they are utilized in the census count,” Lumpkin said. “They are not active participants in the community.”

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