Feb 08, 2018
By Sam Levine
"The 2020 census will continue to count incarcerated people as residents of the place they are imprisoned instead of their homes, a decision critics say can target prisoners and give unfair political power to the rural areas where prisons are located.
State officials use the population from the census when they redraw legislative districts, something required by the U.S. Constitution every 10 years. Each district must have roughly the same amount of people in it, and counting prisoners as part of an area’s population can inflate its population and the political influence of the people who vote there. Just two states in the country ― Maine and Vermont ― allow people convicted of felonies to vote while they are incarcerated.
The census has always counted prisoners as residents of the locations where they are incarcerated, rather than residents of their pre-incarceration addresses. But that practice has become more and more problematic as the prison population soars, said Aleks Kajstura, the legal director at the Prison Policy Initiative, which lobbied the Census Bureau to change the way it counts incarcerated people.
“You have huge prisons built very far away from where most incarcerated people live. You have a whole state’s incarcerated population, people from all over the state, get sentenced and put in a handful of facilities,” Kajstura told HuffPost. “It really shifts the balance of power when you count them in the wrong place, because all of a sudden you have 2,000 extra people just in one little neighborhood.”
The census considers someone a resident of a place if they are a “usual resident,” meaning they live and sleep there most of the time. In several cases where someone might be away from home during the census ― at boarding school, on a business trip ― census officials will still count them at home.
The Census Bureau reconsiders its “usual resident” requirements every 10 years. When it invited public comment on potential changes in 2015 and 2016, advocates were hopeful the bureau might modify its policies. Over a 60-day period in 2016, the bureau got 77,887 public comments relating to residency requirements for prisoners. Only four favored continuing to count them at the facilities where they’re incarcerated.
But on Wednesday, the Census Bureau said that for 2020, it would continue to count incarcerated people at the facility where they’re imprisoned, because it considered that to be the place where they lived and spent most of the time."
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