Tuesday, May 11, 2010

At least nine states might count inmates, for redistricting, where they lived before prison

At least nine states are dealing with legislation that would direct the Census Bureau to count collect previous addresses for prison inmates in the localities where they last lived freely, instead of their prison localities, which are often rural. Maryland recently passed such a law, and "Lawmakers in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, Texas, Rhode Island and Wisconsin have proposed changes similar" to the Maryland law Kathleen Miller of The Associated Press reports, citing Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative.

This census is the first in which states can direct how inmates are counted ask for previous addresses for the purpose of redistricting. "Urban lawmakers across the country say their counterparts in rural areas have gotten an unfair advantage" from having prisons, Miller writes from Annapolis. "New York Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries says 'inmate-based gerrymandering' there has given enough power to rural parts of New York to kill bills supported by the majority of residents elsewhere. "Tallying inmates as residents of their prisons, Jeffries says, has given conservative regions enough votes to kill bills to strengthen rent protections for low and moderate income tenants, reform the criminal justice system and enhance rights for low-wage farm workers."

Rural representatives argue that counting inmates where incarcerated is fair. "They most certainly impact our medical resources based on trips to hospitals and dentists' offices," Maryland House Republican Whip Chris Shank, whose rural district is home to three prisons with about 6,300 inmates, told AP. "They have a tremendous impact on our judicial system, the number of court filings, the workload of our state attorney's office." (Read more)


pwagner said...

There was a slight ambiguity in the original AP story that this post is based on. This will be the first Census where counties and states will be able to use Census Bureau data if they wish to remove the prison populations prior to districting. (This is a very common practice in districting rural county boards, but traditionally, the relevant data was published too late to be useful, forcing rural counties to get the data from elsewhere.)

Separately, a number of states have considered, are still considering, or are preparing to reintroduce, legislation that would collect prisoners' home addresses and adjust the federal Census data at the state level. States are not allowed to direct the Census Bureau, so states have to do this on their own.

Al Cross said...

Thanks for the clarification. The item has been corrected.