Mass. Legislature considers resolution calling on Census Bureau to end prison gerrymandering

by Leah Sakala, March 1, 2013

The Massachusetts Legislature has a new opportunity to take a stand against prison gerrymandering. Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and Representative Linda Dorcena Forry have introduced a resolution in the Senate and House calling on the Census Bureau to end prison gerrymandering across the nation by tabulating incarcerated people at their home addresses beginning in 2020.

A change at the Census Bureau would be especially helpful for Massachusetts, which faces unique constitutional requirements that would need to be revised before the state could implement a legislative solution as New York or Maryland have done. As the resolution observes,

…the simplest solution to the conflict between federal constitutional requirements of “one person, one vote” and Massachusetts constitutional requirements of using the federal census is for the Census Bureau to publish redistricting data based on the location of an incarcerated person’s residence, not prison location…

Massachusetts legislators know from experience how the Census Bureau’s method of tabulating prison populations distorts democracy. The Co-Chairs of the Massachusetts Special Joint Committee on Redistricting noted in their wrap-up redistricting report last December that prison gerrymandering was a significant problem they faced when they drew new electoral district lines after the 2010 Census:

The tabulation of prisoners should be at the forefront of Bureau priorities in evaluating and adjusting how the 2020 U.S. Census will be conducted.

We agree that the way prisoners are currently counted does a disservice to the state and should be changed.

By passing this resolution, the Massachusetts Legislature can send a strong message that it’s time for the Census Bureau to respond to changing data needs by providing state and local governments with redistricting data that accurately portrays American communities. Stay tuned!

2 Responses

  1. Mass. Committee on Election Law hears testimony in support of resolution to end prison gerrymandering | Prisoners of the Census says, 3 weeks, 6 days after publication:

    […] Joint Committee on Election Laws to testify with a great group of colleagues in support of Resolution S 309/H 3185, a resolution urging the Census Bureau to end prison gerrymandering by counting incarcerated people […]

  2. Mass. legislature one step closer to urging Census Bureau to end prison gerrymandering | Prison Gerrymandering Project says, 7 months, 3 weeks after publication:

    […] A Massachusetts resolution (S309/H3185) urging the Census Bureau to end prison gerrymandering by counting incarcerated people at their home addresses just passed out of the Joint Committee on Election Laws. In March, the Prison Policy Initiative joined other supporters to testify before the committee in support of the resolution. […]

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  • May 15, 2018:
    Our Policy Analyst Lucius Couloute will be at the LEDA Summit on Race and Inclusion in Holland, Michigan, presenting his research on the challenges and disadvantages people face when they are released from prison. Tickets are available on LEDA’s website.

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