National civil rights coalition gives Census Bureau 5 reasons to end prison gerrymandering

National coalition of more than 240 organization urges the Bureau to count incarcerate people at home.

by Aleks Kajstura, June 28, 2024

Last week, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — a coalition of more than 240 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States — sent a letter to the Census Bureau urging it to end prison gerrymandering. Specifically, the group called on the Bureau to “update the current residence rules to maintain the accuracy of the census, ensure fair representation of incarcerated individuals within their home communities, and to prioritize equity among all residents regardless of their incarceration status.”

Prison gerrymandering is a problem created because the Census Bureau incorrectly counts incarcerated people as residents of their prison cells rather than their home communities. As a result, when states use Census data to draw new state or local districts, they inadvertently give residents of districts with prisons greater political clout than all other state residents.

The letter follows up on a meeting with staff from the Census Bureau’s Population Division, which oversees how the “residence rule” — is applied to people in different living situations at Census time. To end prison gerrymandering, the Bureau needs to update how it applies its residence rule for incarcerated people to ensure an accurate Census. While is a plethora of reasons it should do so, the letter focuses on 5 key points:

  1. The residence rules must reflect the real-life circumstances of incarcerated persons and the needs of the states and communities in which they live.
  2. Representation and, therefore, democracy, are distorted by counting incarcerated persons where they are housed on Census Day rather than in the home communities to which most will return.
  3. Incarcerated people are not part of the social and economic fabric of the communities surrounding the facilities where they are serving their sentences.
  4. Criteria used to apply the residence rule to incarcerated people should be applied in the same manner as for other people away from home on Census Day.
  5. Equity requires counting incarcerated people at home.

For details on all 5 points, check out the letter (or PDF).

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