Help End Prison Gerrymandering Prison gerrymandering funnels political power away from urban communities to legislators who have prisons in their (often white, rural) districts. More than a decade ago, the Prison Policy Initiative put numbers on the problem and sparked the movement to end prison gerrymandering.

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When the Census says most of your town is in prison

Prisons account for over half of the population in nearly 40 municipalities, painting a distorted picture of communities.

by Aleks Kajstura, November 10, 2020

The Ina Community Center shares a little unassuming building with the Ina Village Hall. The squat single-story structure probably serves the little Illinois village quite well. But judging by their Census population of over 2,300, you wouldn’t think the building adequate.

The village only has 494 actual residents. The 1,800 people who make up the remainder of the Census population are folks who are incarcerated at the Big Muddy Prison. Because the prison is located within the village boundaries, the Census counts them as if they were village residents. That means 80% of the population reported for Ina are legal residents of other villages, towns, and cities, scattered across Illinois.

Ina is just one of nearly 40 municipalities across the US where more than half of the Census population is actually people who were counted at a correctional facility. And in over 100 municipalities, at least one in three people counted by the Census are actually out-of-town residents.

I often talk about how the Census Bureau’s practice of counting incarcerated people as if they were residents of the town that contains the prison causes prison gerrymandering. Prison gerrymandering is the process of using prisons to pad district populations, resulting in increased political representation for people who live near prisons.

But the Census Bureau’s practice skews data in ways that affect more than just redistricting data and representation. When a prison accounts for half of your city population, the Census’ demographic information such as race and ethnicity is not representative of the local residents. Mass incarceration’s disproportionate impact on Black and Latino communities, coupled with prisons being built largely in white communities distorts the Census’ demographic data when people aren’t counted in their home communities. This often paints a distorted picture of job opportunities in the local economy.

Many people assume that prison gerrymandering affects funding allocation, but in fact funding allocation seems to be one of the few data uses left untouched by the Census’ prison miscount. Over the decades, funding formulas have developed a level of complexity that leaves them mostly impervious to the Census Bureau’s odd interpretation of residence.

This year, the Census once again counted all incarcerated people as residents of the facility where they were located on April 1. The population data that will be released over the next few months will therefore suffer from the same deficiencies for another decade; it will once again fail to represent the people who actually live in these communities. For now, places such as Ina can find some relevant information in the Census data, if they know where to look and dig carefully enough. Perhaps by 2030 the Census Bureau will count everyone at home rather than shifting the burden of making its data usable onto everyone else.

Municipalities where at least one third of the Census’ population count is made up of correctional facilities:
Place State 2010 Census Population Percent Incarcerated
Ina village Illinois 2,338 78.87%
Davisboro city Georgia 2,010 77.36%
Chester town Georgia 1,596 77.19%
Varnado village Louisiana 1,461 77%
Whiteville town Tennessee 4,638 74.51%
Sumner city Illinois 3,174 74.29%
Dannemora village New York 3,936 71.52%
Helena town Oklahoma 1,403 71.49%
Clifton city Tennessee 2,694 70.49%
Boley town Oklahoma 1,184 70.19%
Ridgeville town South Carolina 1,979 69.98%
Florence town Arizona 25,536 69.10%
Malone town Florida 2,088 68.97%
Alamo town Georgia 2,797 68.32%
Nicholls city Georgia 2,798 67.66%
Tutwiler town Mississippi 3,550 66.48%
Polkton town North Carolina 3,375 64.89%
Jasper city Florida 4,546 64.61%
Abbeville city Georgia 2,908 63.51%
Sheridan village Illinois 2,137 62.70%
Springfield city South Dakota 1,989 62.49%
Brunswick town North Carolina 1,119 61.75%
Grafton village Ohio 6,636 60.96%
Lumpkin city Georgia 2,741 58.23%
Clayton town Alabama 3,008 57.31%
Eden city Texas 2,766 56.25%
West Liberty city Kentucky 3,435 54.73%
Richwood town Louisiana 3,392 54.39%
Westville town Indiana 5,853 54.30%
Calipatria city California 7,705 54.04%
St. Gabriel city Louisiana 6,677 52.91%
Hinton town Oklahoma 3,196 52.72%
Tiptonville town Tennessee 4,464 52.67%
Wrightsville city Arkansas 2,114 52.41%
Gatesville city Texas 15,751 51.84%
Haysi town Virginia 498 51.41%
Licking city Missouri 3,124 51.18%
Carrabelle city Florida 2,778 51.12%
St. Louis city Michigan 7,482 49.22%
Bayboro town North Carolina 1,263 49.01%
Corcoran city California 24,813 48.84%
Eastville town Virginia 305 48.52%
Granite town Oklahoma 2,065 48.23%
Ione city California 7,918 48.17%
Redgranite village Wisconsin 2,149 47.74%
Reidsville city Georgia 4,944 47.53%
Unadilla city Georgia 3,796 46.47%
Susanville city California 17,947 46.25%
Sandstone city Minnesota 2,849 46.16%
Gunnison city Utah 3,285 46.03%
Urania town Louisiana 1,313 46%
Mayersville town Mississippi 547 45.89%
Edgefield town South Carolina 4,750 45.81%
Bayport city Minnesota 3,471 45.72%
Clarks village Louisiana 1,017 45.43%
Crescent City city California 7,643 45.35%
Ionia city Michigan 11,394 45.16%
McCormick town South Carolina 2,783 44.70%
Epps village Louisiana 854 44.26%
Eloy city Arizona 16,631 43.85%
Danbury town North Carolina 189 41.80%
Chester city Illinois 8,586 41.59%
Stanley city Wisconsin 3,608 41.57%
Baraga village Michigan 2,053 41.55%
Avenal city California 15,505 41.43%
Pinckneyville city Illinois 5,648 41.13%
Moose Lake city Minnesota 2,751 41%
Tehachapi city California 14,414 40.95%
Watonga city Oklahoma 5,111 40.76%
Jackson town Louisiana 3,842 40.66%
Brent city Alabama 4,947 40.57%
Hutchins city Texas 5,338 40.54%
New Lisbon city Wisconsin 2,554 40.13%
La Villa city Texas 1,957 40.01%
Helena city Georgia 2,883 39.75%
Chowchilla city California 18,720 39.08%
Soledad city California 25,738 39.04%
Milan village New Mexico 3,245 38.67%
Anthony town Texas 5,011 38.48%
Cambridge Springs borough Pennsylvania 2,595 38.30%
South Bay city Florida 4,876 38.25%
Mason town Tennessee 1,609 38.22%
Sayre city Oklahoma 4,375 37.71%
Jonesboro city Georgia 4,724 37.60%
Caryville town Florida 411 37.47%
Bonne Terre city Missouri 6,864 37.44%
Calico Rock city Arkansas 1,545 37.15%
Post city Texas 5,376 37.11%
Blythe city California 20,817 37.08%
Hudson town Colorado 2,356 36.97%
Estancia town New Mexico 1,655 36.80%
Bowling Green city Missouri 5,334 36.71%
Vandalia city Missouri 3,899 36.57%
Pine Prairie village Louisiana 1,610 36.40%
Airway Heights city Washington 6,114 35.72%
Tipton city Missouri 3,262 35.35%
Venus town Texas 2,960 35.20%
Pattonsburg city Missouri 348 35.06%
Cadwell town Georgia 528 34.85%
Connell city Washington 4,209 34.33%
Cameron city Missouri 9,933 34.09%
Kingston city Missouri 348 33.91%
Ridgeland town South Carolina 4,036 33.87%
Eddyville city Kentucky 2,554 33.71%

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