Where to count inmates an issue in redistricting

Written by Rachel McDevitt, All Things Considered Host | Jan 28, 2019 6:50 PM

(Harrisburg) -- When the U.S. Census Bureau measures population, prison inmates are counted as residents of the communities where they are incarcerated.

The practice can affect how lines are drawn in congressional and legislative redistricting efforts, which will take place after the 2020 census.

Some of Pennsylvania's neighbors have taken steps to count inmates as part of their home communities, by arguing their last address is where they should be considered a "usual resident."

New York and Maryland started to do so after the 2010 census, and Delaware is slated to begin after 2020.

Fair Districts PA hopes the commonwealth will follow suit.

The nonprofit's chair Carol Kuniholm said including prison populations in districts can have an out-sized effect on county and municipal elections.

"Having those numbers on a more local level can really give the people who live near the prison far more voice in local politics than the people who are not in that immediate district, and we think that's pretty problematic," Kuniholm said. 

Statewide, the practice can shift power to areas that host prisons, which tend to be more rural.

Kuniholm said the census count helps determine what resources and services are allocated to an area.

"It amplifies the voice of communities that have prisons and want to keep those prisons full, and it diminishes the voice of communities that are harmed by mass incarceration," she said.

Fair Districts currently has a team reviewing data to see how the state's practices are affecting district lines.

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