Congress and Census Bureau Director talk prison gerrymandering

The new Census Bureau Director makes it clear it's not too late to develop a solution.

by Leah Sakala, September 13, 2013

Congress and the Census Bureau are deep in discussion about planning for the 2020 Census, and the question of whether or not prison gerrymandering will continue to undermine state and local democracy in the next decade is still on the table.

At a congressional hearing about the 2020 Census on Wednesday, I was happy to see that Congressman William Lacy Clay asked the new Census Bureau Director, John Thompson, how the Bureau plans to count prison populations. Congressman Clay noted that he had already submitted a joint letter to the Bureau with 17 other congressional colleagues urging the Bureau to count incarcerated people at their home addresses in 2020. He also pointed out that several states have already passed their own laws to avoid prison gerrymandering by adjusting their redistricting data, a solution that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Even though we’re frustrated that the Census Bureau isn’t farther along in developing a solution, the Director’s reply made it clear that it’s not too late to end prison gerrymandering. He said that the Bureau hasn’t yet decided how it will handle prison populations in the 2020 Census, and emphasized the importance of stakeholder input in the Bureau’s decisionmaking:

My opinion on this will be based on consultation with stakeholders to try to adopt the rules that will be most appropriate to count people.

Here at the Prison Policy Initiative, we’re looking forward to working with Director Thompson to develop a national solution to prison gerrymandering by 2020. It’s time to update the Census Bureau’s methodology to be able to count incarcerated people in their home communities next time around.

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