Quick Roundup on Census 2010 and Prison-based Gerrymandering
I’m traveling this week, but right before I left for my trip, I made sure to fill out and return my 2010 Census form. This was my first “adult” census since I was still a “minor” in 2000 and 1990, so it was kind of exciting to feel like I was being counted (although, also somewhat anticlimactic since the form turns out to be so short!). Of course, I couldn’t help but notice the line on the Census form instructing me not to include in my household count any family members or friends who are currently in prison, since prisoners are counted in the location where they’re incarcerated. I’ve posted frequently in recent months about the issue of “prison-based gerrymandering” — the way that communities where prisons are located benefit from the prison population when it’s time for legislative redistricting, even though prisoners generally can’t vote and aren’t considered members of the community for any other purpose.
This practice hurts not just the urban communities that prisoners usually come from, but rural communities too — actually, it hurts every community that doesn’t have a prison. The good news is that, although it’s not a full solution, this year the Census Bureau will release population data in a way that allows states to disaggregate prisoners from population numbers when it is time for redistricting, and as a result, several states are considering legislation to do just that. The best place to go for news and updates on this very important topic is Peter Wagner’s Prisoners of the Census website, a project of the Prison Policy Initiative. It’s largely thanks to the advocacy of this vital organization that “prison-based gerrymandering” has entered the lexicon and steps are being taken around the country to remedy this unjust practice. A full digest of my posts on this topic can be found at https://prisonlaw.wordpress.com/tag/census-2010/