Press Release archives

February 25, 2021

For immediate release — On Tuesday, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed an omnibus criminal justice package that (among several victories) makes Illinois the tenth state to end prison gerrymandering. HB3653 ensures that, beginning in 2030, people in state prisons will be counted as residents of their home addresses when new legislative districts are drawn.

The Prison Policy Initiative, which has been leading the national fight to end prison gerrymandering for almost 20 years, notes the significance of this particular victory. “One in three U.S. residents now lives in a place that has ended prison gerrymandering,” said Legal Director Aleks Kajstura.

prison gerrymandering legislation map

But this important win also falls far short of what the Prison Policy Initiative and other advocates hoped for. The part of HB3653 ending prison gerrymandering was singled out in a last-minute change delaying implementation until 2030, rather than ensuring that changes go into effect in the current redistricting cycle. “The state’s delay means another decade of using redistricting data that counts incarcerated people in the wrong place,” said Aleks Kajstura. “While the state waits another six months for the Census’ redistricting data, it could be using that time to count people at home.”

Illinois law states that going to prison does not change someone’s official residence. However, the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as residents of the places where they are incarcerated. As a result, when Illinois uses Census counts to draw legislative districts, it unintentionally enhances the representation of people living in districts containing prisons. Counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison gives extra representation to the prison district, dilutes the representation of everyone who does not live next to the state’s largest prison, and prevents the state from fulfilling the constitutional requirement of equal representation. Indeed, 22 counties and cities in Illinois that have large correctional facilities already adjust their own redistricting data to ensure equal representation on city councils and county commissions.

While the upcoming redistricting cycle means that the clock is ticking for states that want to end prison gerrymandering, every state still has an opportunity to limit the impact of the distortion. Legislation is not the only way to end prison gerrymandering before new districts are drawn: State and local redistricting officials can also minimize the impact of the Census’ prison counts by using “group quarters” table that will be published with the usual redistricting data. The Census Bureau is publishing the table to make it easier for states to identify correctional facilities in their redistricting data. “More states need to follow Illinois’s example in passing swift reform, but they have to make sure that reforms go into effect immediately or they will face 10 more years of prison-driven democracy distortion,” said Kajstura.

Illinois’s new law applies only to redistricting, and will not affect federal or state funding distributions.


The new law makes Virginia the third state this year, and the ninth state in total, to end the practice known as prison gerrymandering.

April 27, 2020

For immediate release — Last week, Virginia passed Senate Bill 717 and its identical House bill, HB 1255, which ensure that people in state prisons will be counted as residents of their home addresses when new legislative districts are drawn. The new law makes Virginia the ninth state to end the practice known as prison gerrymandering, after Colorado and New Jersey passed their own laws earlier this year. Over 30% of US residents now live in a state, county, or municipality that has ended prison gerrymandering.

The Virginia Constitution states that, for the purposes of voting, people in prison remain residents of their hometowns. However, the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as residents of the places where they are incarcerated. As a result, when Virginia used Census counts to draw past legislative districts, it unintentionally enhanced the representation of people living in districts containing prisons.

“Virginia’s new law recognizes that ending prison gerrymandering is an important issue of fairness,” said Aleks Kajstura, Legal Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. “All districts — some far more than others — send people to prison, but only some districts contain prisons. Counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison gives extra representation to the prison district, dilutes the votes of everyone who does not live next to the state’s largest prison, and distorts the constitutional principle of one person, one vote. This new law offers Virginia voters a fairer data set on which future districts will be drawn.”

prison gerrymandering legislation map

In 2013, Virginia passed House Bill 1339, which ended a state requirement that had forced some local governments to engage in prison gerrymandering. HB 1339 lifted limitations on which counties, cities, and municipalities could exclude incarcerated populations for redistricting purposes. The new law passed last week builds on this progress by explicitly requiring Virginia state and local redistricting officials to count incarcerated people as residents of their home addresses.

Virginia is also considering a constitutional amendment, reforming the state’s redistricting process, that contains similar provisions ending prison gerrymandering. The amendment will be on the ballot for voters to approve in the fall. However, now that SB 717 and HB 1255 have passed, the success or failure of this constitutional amendment will not change how Virginia counts incarcerated people during redistricting.

Over 10 other states introduced legislation to end prison gerrymandering in the current legislative session. “We applaud Virginia for enacting reforms that will allow it to draw fairer state legislative districts,” Kajstura said. “Other states currently considering similar bills will need to act swiftly to ensure that reforms can be implemented for the upcoming redistricting cycle, but unfortunately many states have needed to end their legislative sessions early because of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Virginia’s new law applies only to redistricting, and will not affect federal or state funding distributions.


Colorado moved swiftly, ending prison gerrymandering in a single legislative session.

March 23, 2020

For immediate release — Last Friday (March 20, 2020), Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a bill into law ensuring that people in state prisons will be counted as residents of their home addresses when new legislative districts are drawn. The new law makes Colorado the eighth state to end the practice known as prison gerrymandering, after New Jersey passed its own law earlier this year.

The Colorado Constitution states that, for the purposes of voting, people in prison remain residents of their hometowns. However, the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as residents of the places where they are incarcerated.

As a result, when Colorado used Census counts to draw past legislative districts, it unintentionally enhanced the representation of people living in districts containing prisons. The result of this distortion was dramatic: In three state legislative districts, people in prison accounted for 12%, 8%, and 5% of the district’s population. Each of these districts, therefore, had far fewer actual district residents than any other district in the state.

“Colorado’s new law recognizes that ending prison gerrymandering is an important issue of fairness,” said Aleks Kajstura, Legal Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. “All districts — some far more than others — send people to prison, but only some districts contain prisons. Counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison gives extra representation to the prison district, dilutes the votes of everyone who does not live next to the state’s largest prison, and distorts the constitutional principle of one person, one vote. This new law offers Colorado voters a fairer data set on which future districts will be drawn.”

prison gerrymandering legislation map

“More accurate district maps, a fairer count of Coloradans, and better population data means a stronger democracy,” sponsors Kerry Tipper and James Coleman argued in The Denver Post last month. “This bill will make a difference for everyone who wants to ensure their districts have the most accurate representation possible.”

The legislation, passed as HB 20-1010, applies only to redistricting and will not affect federal or state funding distributions.

Over 10 other states introduced legislation to end prison gerrymandering in the current session. “We applaud Colorado for enacting common-sense solutions in a single legislative session, and other states currently considering similar bills should follow its example,” Kajstura said.


Over 25% of U.S. residents now live in a state, county, or municipality that has ended prison gerrymandering.

January 21, 2020

Easthampton, Mass. — Today, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill ending prison gerrymandering — the practice of using prisons to transfer power away from the home communities of incarcerated people, and give it to legislative districts that contain prisons. The state will now draw districts with their home, not prison, addresses.

Senate Bill 758 passed the Senate in February 2019, and the Assembly on January 13, 2020. The bill, now law, caps a campaign to make New Jersey the 7th state to end prison gerrymandering and ensure equal representation for all of its residents. Over 25% of US residents now live in a state, county, or municipality that has ended prison gerrymandering. (The other states are New York, California, Maryland, Delaware, Nevada, and Washington State).

map showing the progress of states and counties in rejecting prison gerrymandering as of January 2020

This legislative effort spanned multiple sessions and was supported by many groups, most recently including the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. The bill’s sponsors included Senators Cunningham and Cruz-Perez, and Assemblymembers Sumter, Mukherji, and Quijano. The sponsors emphasized that the bill will have no effect on federal or state funds in New Jersey. All funding programs have their own data sources that do not rely on redistricting data.

“Prison gerrymandering is a fixable problem of political representation caused by the growth of prison populations in past decades,” said Prison Policy Initiative Legal Director Aleks Kajstura. Like most states, New Jersey bases its legislative districts on U.S. Census Bureau data. Unfortunately, the Census counts incarcerated people as if they were residents of the correctional facility where they happen to be on Census day. When states like New Jersey use this data for redistricting, it leads to unequal representation: People who live near prisons are given extra representation in the state legislature, while every other resident in the state receives less representation.

Senate Bill 758 is a simple state-based solution to a problem that should have been corrected by the federal government. The bill uses the state’s administrative records to reassign incarcerated people to their home addresses before redistricting. Ideally, the U.S. Census Bureau will change its policy and count incarcerated people as residents of their home addresses in the 2030 Census, but for now states should be prepared to have their own solutions in place.

New York and Maryland have already passed and implemented similar laws to count people in prison at home for this round of redistricting, and both states’ laws were successfully defended in court. California, Delaware, Nevada, and Washington State passed legislation that will take effect after the 2020 Census.

As more states take on the task of adjusting Census data to make it usable for drawing equal districts, the Census Bureau has taken some small but very helpful steps. For the first time, the 2020 Census will include correctional population data within the main redistricting dataset (the PL 94-171 file). Identifying the correctional facilities makes the data-crunching easier for states that end prison gerrymandering on their own, and will be particularly useful for states with short redistricting deadlines, such as New Jersey. This data will give redistricting officials the Census counts of people in correctional facilities at the location of the facility — enabling states to subtract incarcerated people from the prison location and, in conjunction with the state’s own home address data, reallocate them back home for that state’s redistricting.

States should follow the lead of New Jersey and Governor Murphy and end prison gerrymandering to ensure equal representation for all their residents.


Nevada moved swiftly, ending prison gerrymandering in a single legislative session.

May 31, 2019

For immediate release — Yesterday, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak signed a bill into law ensuring that people in state prisons will be counted as residents of their home addresses when new legislative districts are drawn. The new law makes Nevada the sixth state to end the practice known as prison gerrymandering, after Washington passed its own law just last week.

The Nevada Constitution states that, for the purposes of voting, people in prison should be counted as residents of their hometowns. However, the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as residents of the places where they are incarcerated. As a result, when Nevada used Census counts to draw past legislative districts, it unintentionally enhanced the weight of votes cast in districts containing prisons — at the expense of all other districts in the state.

“Nevada’s new law recognizes that ending prison gerrymandering is an important issue of fairness,” said Aleks Kajstura, Legal Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. “All districts — some far more than others — send people to prison, but only some districts contain prisons. Counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison gives extra representation to the prison district, dilutes the votes of everyone who does not live next to the state’s largest prison, and distorts the constitutional principle of one person, one vote. This new law offers Nevada voters a fairer data set on which future districts will be drawn.”

prison gerrymandering legislation map

The legislation, passed as AB 450, applies only to redistricting and will not affect federal or state funding distributions.

Six other states have legislation to end prison gerrymandering pending in the current session. “We applaud Washington and Nevada for enacting common-sense solutions in a single legislative session,” Kajstura said. “Other states currently considering similar bills should follow its example.”


Washington State moved swiftly, ending prison gerrymandering in a single legislative session.

May 21, 2019

For immediate release — Today, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill into law ensuring that people in state prisons will be counted as residents of their home addresses when new legislative districts are drawn, making Washington the fifth state to end the practice known as prison gerrymandering.

The Washington State Constitution states that, for the purposes of voting, people in prison should be counted as residents of their hometowns. However, the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as residents of the places where they are incarcerated. As a result, when Washington State used Census counts to draw past legislative districts, it unintentionally enhanced the weight of votes cast in districts containing prisons — at the expense of all other districts in the state.

“Washington State’s new law recognizes that ending prison gerrymandering is an important issue of fairness,” said Aleks Kajstura, Legal Director of the Prison Policy Initiative, who was present when the bill was signed. “All districts — some far more than others — send people to prison, but only some districts contain prisons. Counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison gives extra representation to the prison district, dilutes the votes of everyone who does not live next to the state’s largest prison, and distorts the constitutional principle of one person, one vote. This new law offers Washington voters a fairer data set on which future districts will be drawn.”

bill signing ceremony photo

The legislation, passed as SB 5287, applies only to redistricting and will not affect federal or state funding distributions.

Five other states have legislation to end prison gerrymandering pending in the current session. “We applaud Washington State for enacting this common-sense solution in a single legislative session,” Kajstura said. “Other states currently considering similar bills should follow its example.”

The states with pending legislation include:

  • Connecticut: HB 5611, introduced by the Government Administration and Elections Committee for the January Session, 2019.
  • New Jersey: S758, “requir[ing] incarcerated individual from State to be counted at residential address for legislative redistricting purposes”, introduced by Senators Sandra Cunningham and Nilsa Cruz-Perez, January 9, 2018, and A1987, introduced by Assemblymembers Sumter, Mukherji, Quijano, and Pinkin, January 9, 2018.
  • Oregon: HB 2492, “Relating to redistricting”, has chief sponsors Representative Holvey and Senator Prozanski and regular sponsors Representatives Nosse, Piluso, Sanchez, filed on January 14, 2019.
  • Rhode Island: H 5513, “Residence of Those in Government Custody Act”, introduced by Representatives Williams, Vella-Wilkinson, Craven, Caldwell, and Almeida, February 14, 2019. And S 232, “Residence of Those in Government Custody Act”, introduced by Senators Metts, Nesselbush, Quezada, Cano, and Crowley, January 31, 2019.
  • Texas: “An Act Relating to the inclusion of an incarcerated person in the population data used for redistricting according to the person’s last residence before incarceration” was filed by Representative Johnson as HB 104 on November 12, 2018.

Pending Governor Jay Inslee's signature, Washington State will become the fifth state to count incarcerated people at their home addresses during redistricting.

April 23, 2019

On April 23, the Washington state legislature passed a bill ensuring that incarcerated persons will be counted as residents of their home addresses when new legislative districts are drawn in Washington. The bill is now awaiting Governor Jay Inslee’s signature.

The Washington State Constitution states that, for the purposes of voting, people in prison should be counted as residents of their hometowns. However, the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as residents of the places where they are incarcerated. As a result, when Washington State uses Census counts to draw legislative districts, it unintentionally enhances the weight of a vote cast in districts that contain prisons at the expense of all other districts in the state.

This problem is national, affecting not only Washington but all states. Our past research has found one state house district in Texas, for instance, that was 12% incarcerated people; and 15% of one Montana state house district consisted of incarcerated people imported from other parts of the state.

Washington State is poised to become the fifth state to correct this problem by adjusting Census data to count incarcerated persons at their home address, joining New York, Maryland, Delaware, and California. Nine other states have legislation pending in the current session.

The legislation, passed as SB 5287, applies only to redistricting and would not affect federal or state funding distributions.

“Washington’s legislation recognizes that prison-based gerrymandering is a problem of fairness,” said Aleks Kajstura, Legal Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. “All districts — some far more than others — send people to prison, but only some districts have large prisons. Counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison distorts the principle of one person, one vote. This new law offers Washington voters a fairer data set on which future districts will be drawn.”


Census Bureau announcement means another decade of prison gerrymandering. State-by-state reforms are urgent.

February 7, 2018

For Immediate Release — Today, the U.S. Census Bureau announced how it will define residence for the 2020 Census. Ignoring overwhelming public support for a change in how incarcerated persons are counted in the Census, the Bureau announced it is leaving in place the inaccurate and outdated practice of counting incarcerated persons as “residents” of the prison locations instead of their home communities. In response to this development, the Prison Policy Initiative released the following statement:

The Prison Policy Initiative is profoundly disappointed by the Census Bureau proposal to again count nearly 2 million people in the wrong place on Census day. Continuing this practice will ensure another decade of “prison gerrymandering” that unjustly awards extra political power to the regions that host prisons, perverting the principles of equal representation.

Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative, said “The Census Bureau blatantly ignored the overwhelming consensus urging a change in the Census count for incarcerated persons. When the Bureau asked for public comment on its residence rules two years ago, over 99% of the 77,863 comments regarding residence rules for incarcerated persons urged the Bureau to count incarcerated persons at their home address, which is almost always their legal address. By planning to once again count incarcerated people as if they were residents of correctional facilities, the Census Bureau has simply disregarded input from the public, redistricting experts, and legislators.”

“The Bureau’s decision is inconsistent with the way the ‘usual residence’ rule is applied to other similarly-situated people,” explained Legal Director Aleks Kajstura. “The Census Bureau is picking favorites based on economic and racial privilege: if boarding school students are deemed to live at home, then the same logic should be applied to incarcerated people.”

The Prison Policy Initiative, along with many other civil rights, voting rights, and criminal justice advocates, have long urged the Bureau to update its rules on incarcerated persons. As our research has demonstrated over the last two decades, the Census Bureau’s practice of counting incarcerated people at the location of the facility harms our democracy at all levels of government.

When state and local officials use the Census Bureau’s prison count data attributing ‘residence’ to the prison location, they give extra representation to the communities that host the prisons and dilute the representation of everyone else. This is harmful to rural communities that contain large prisons, because it seriously distorts redistricting at the local level of county commissions, city councils, and school boards. It also harms urban communities by not crediting them with the incarcerated population whose legal residence never changed.

The Census Bureau defines “usual residence” as the place where a person “eats and sleeps most of the time”, but fails to follow that rule when counting incarcerated people. Treating a prison as a “usual residence” reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of incarceration. The critical issue is that while a prison itself seems permanent, the people located there on any given day are not. The majority of people incarcerated in Rhode Island, for example, spend less than 100 days in the state’s correctional facilities. If the same people were instead spending 100 days in their summer residence, the Bureau would count them at their regular home address. The Census Bureau continues to carve out an unexplained exception for incarcerated people in order to count them in the wrong place.

Counting incarcerated people at the location of the facility reduces the accuracy of Census data about communities of color. For example, because African-Americans and Latinos are disproportionately incarcerated, counting incarcerated people in the wrong location is particularly bad for proper representation of African-American and Latino communities. Today’s decision continues to sacrifice the accuracy of the Census and harm communities of color.

Despite this major disappointment, the advocates noted two positive developments and pledged to redouble their efforts to help states make the data suitable for redistricting. The Bureau is planning on publishing correctional facility populations early — at the same time as the main redistricting data files that they send to the states. And the Bureau is offering to help states with the number crunching required to adjust the redistricting data on their own even as it leaves people across the country at the mercy of an ad hoc approach to equal representation.

The earlier data publication will make the data adjustments easier for states that end prison gerrymandering on their own, and will be particularly useful for states with short redistricting deadlines. This data will give redistricting officials the Census counts of people in correctional facilities at the location of the facility – enabling states to subtract incarcerated people from the prison location and, in conjunction with the state’s own home address data, reallocate them back home for that state’s redistricting.

The Prison Policy Initiative has long argued that the Census Bureau is in the best position to end prison gerrymandering nationwide, and the organization hopes that, by 2030, the Bureau’s residence rules will reflect reality. But with 2020 and redistricting just around the corner, today’s disappointing announcement makes it all the more urgent that more states pass legislation to end prison gerrymandering in their states.

 

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Court allows prison gerrymandering in Cranston, RI. City still has no logical reason for counting all people incarcerated by the state as residents of a single ward.

September 21, 2016

The following statement was issued today by representatives of the ACLU of Rhode Island, Demos, the Prison Policy Initiative and the ACLU:

"Today, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the First Circuit overturned a ruling issued earlier this year by U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux, who had held that the City of Cranston violated the one person, one vote requirements of the U.S. Constitution when it allocated the entire incarcerated population of the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) as 'residents' of one ward of the City when it drew district lines for the City Council and School Committee following the 2010 Census and thereby created significant distortions in local representation. A panel of the First Circuit instead ruled that a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling dictated a different outcome.

"We respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the First Circuit's ruling. We believe the panel misinterpreted the Supreme Court's recent Evenwel v. Abbott case as vindicating the City's position when it did no such thing. As a result of that misinterpretation, the panel opinion fails to adequately address the critical 'one person, one vote' implications of Cranston's use of prison gerrymandering to overinflate the representation of constituents in the school committee and city council districts where the ACI is located. As a result, we will strongly be considering filing a petition for rehearing of the case before the entire First Circuit.

"To this day, we have heard no logical basis for the City's decision to count the entire ACI population as residing in a single City ward even though people incarcerated there who are able to vote generally are barred from voting there according to state law. In addition to the constitutional concerns, the City's choice is not rational. The prison population is wholly physically and politically isolated from the surrounding community, and local elected officials do not represent those incarcerated at the ACI in any meaningful way. This provides yet another reason for us to consider seeking an en banc rehearing, as well as for the City Council itself to fix this issue for elections in future years, as it had started to do before this appeal was filed.

"During this campaign season, serious concerns and questions about electoral fairness are being raised and felt across the country. Like those disputes, this case goes to the heart of the importance of fair representation, something that Cranston's current system simply does not provide."

Background on the Lawsuit

At issue in the lawsuit was the City of Cranston's choice to count the more than three thousand inmates at the ACI in a single city ward for the purposes of drawing City Council and School Committee districts. Judge Lagueux had agreed with the ACLU and other plaintiffs that this "prison gerrymandering" was improper because those incarcerated at the ACI are not actual constituents of local elected officials, but instead remain residents of their pre-incarceration communities for virtually all legal purposes, including voting. Due to the questionable counting, all persons incarcerated by the state of Rhode Island are used to account for 25 percent of Ward 6's total "population." According to Census Bureau data, without the non-resident incarcerated population, Ward 6 has only 10,227 true constituents. Yet those constituents now wield the same political power as the roughly 13,500 constituents in each of the other wards.

The case is Davidson et. al. v. City of Cranston. Today's decision and others documents in the case be found here.

Plaintiffs in the case were represented by attorneys with Demos, the Prison Policy Initiative, the ACLU and the ACLU of Rhode Island.


Advocates should make their voices heard to demand a more accurate count

June 30, 2016

UPDATE: Comment deadline extended to September 1.
The Census Bureau has extended the deadline to submit comments to September 1, 2016, explaining: “Because of the scope of the proposed criteria, and in response to individuals and organizations who have requested more time to review the proposed criteria, the Census Bureau has decided to extend the comment period for an additional 31 days.”

Advocates should make their voices heard to demand a more accurate count

Prison Policy Initiative and Demos logos

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau released its proposal on how to implement residence guidelines for the 2020 Census. Ignoring overwhelming public input supporting a change in how incarcerated persons are counted in the Census, the Bureau announced it is leaving in place the inaccurate and outdated practice of counting incarcerated persons as "residents" of the prison location instead of their home communities. Interested stakeholders have until August 1 to submit further comments before this proposal becomes final. In response to this development the Prison Policy Initiative and Demos released the following statement:

Our organizations, and hundreds of allies around the country, are profoundly disappointed by the Census Bureau proposal to again count nearly 2 million people in the wrong place on Census day. Continuing this outdated practice will ensure an inaccurate 2020 Census and another decade of prison gerrymandering.

Counting incarcerated people as if they were “residents” of the correctional facility makes the Census less accurate for everyone: rural and urban communities; incarcerated persons and their families; governmental authorities trying to draw accurate redistricting plans; researchers trying to understand the demographics of local communities.

Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative, said “The Census Bureau blatantly ignored the overwhelming consensus urging a change in the Census count for incarcerated persons. When the Bureau asked for public comment on its residence rules last year, 96% of the comments regarding residence rules for incarcerated persons urged the Bureau to count incarcerated persons at their home address, which is almost always their legal address. By proposing to once again count incarcerated people as if they were residents of correctional facilities, the Census Bureau has simply disregarded input from the public, redistricting experts, and legislators.”

Demos and the Prison Policy Initiative, along with many other civil rights and criminal justice advocates, have long urged the Bureau to update its rules on incarcerated persons. According to Brenda Wright, Vice President of Policy and Legal Strategies at Demos, “The Bureau’s proposed rules will perpetuate the distortion of democracy that results from padding the population counts of communities with prisons.”

“When state and local officials use the Census Bureau’s prison count data attributing ‘residence’ to the prison,” Wright continued, “they give extra representation to the communities that host the prisons and dilute the representation of everyone else. This is harmful to rural communities that contain large prisons, because it seriously distorts redistricting at the local level of county commissions, city councils, and school boards. It also harms urban communities by not crediting them with the incarcerated population whose legal residence never changed.”

The Census Bureau defines “usual residence” as the place where a person “eats and sleeps most of the time”, but fails to follow that rule when counting incarcerated people. The majority of people incarcerated in Rhode Island, for example, spend less than 100 days in the state’s correctional facilities. If the same people were instead spending 100 days in their summer residence, the Bureau would count them at their regular home address. The Census Bureau continues to carve out an unexplained exception for incarcerated people in order to count them in the wrong place.

The Bureau’s failure to update its rules regarding incarcerated persons is particularly misguided given that the Bureau decided that other populations – deployed overseas military, and juveniles staying in residential treatment centers – should be counted in their home location even if they are sleeping elsewhere on Census Day. It made these changes even though there were far fewer public comments identifying these issues as causing the magnitude of problems that the public commentary on the prison miscount highlighted.

Counting incarcerated people at the location of the facility reduces the accuracy of Census data about communities of color. For example, because African-Americans and Latinos are disproportionately incarcerated, counting incarcerated people in the wrong location is particularly bad for proper representation of African-American and Latino communities. “The Bureau’s counting method means that counties in upstate New York show up as wonderfully diverse in population – solely because there is a large prison in the county,” observed Wright. “It is truly disappointing that the Bureau has proposed to sacrifice the accuracy of the Census in a way that so clearly harms communities of color.”

The Bureau’s failure to update its residence rules is also creating legal problems because federal courts have started to recognize that the Bureau’s prison count can result in constitutional violations of one person, one vote requirements. There have already been successful Equal Protection challenges to prison gerrymandering in federal district courts in Jefferson County Florida and Cranston Rhode Island. The Bureau’s failure to change the way it counts incarcerated populations will ensure that these constitutional challenges continue into the coming decade.

The sole positive outcome in the Bureau’s proposal regarding incarcerated persons is to allow states to request individualized Census counts that reallocate incarcerated populations to their home addresses. This will make it somewhat easier for states to adopt their own legislation to count incarcerated persons in the right location. Four states (California, Delaware, Maryland and New York) have already adopted such reforms, and more should consider doing so now. Wagner pointed out that, “by making this option available, the Bureau is really acknowledging that its own counting rules do not work well for many states – a reality that should have prompted a full overhaul of the current rules on allocating incarcerated population. And people across the country will continue to be at the mercy of an ad hoc approach to equal representation.”

Stakeholders interested in a fair and accurate Census count in 2020 should make sure to submit comments to the Bureau by August 1 to explain why it must revise this proposal and count incarcerated persons at home in the 2020 Census.




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