Congressman José E. Serrano

Representing the 15th District of New York

Serrano, Cummings, Clay and Colleagues Urge Census Bureau to Prevent Prison Gerrymandering

Oct 31, 2016
Press Release
Members Oppose Proposed Rule to Count Incarcerated Individuals at Prison Facilities Instead of Last Known Address

WASHINGTON, DC- Today, Reps. José E. Serrano (D-NY), Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), and Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO) sent a letter to U.S. Census Bureau Population Division Chief Karen Humes urging the Bureau to amend a proposed rule, which would allow states to count incarcerated persons at prison facilities at which they are incarcerated on Census Day, instead of their last known address.

The Members wrote, “the Bureau’s process of counting prisoners where prisoners are imprisoned, instead of at their last known address before incarceration allows state governments to participate in prison gerrymandering.  The crafters of legislative districts engage in prison gerrymandering when they include prisons in districts where none of the incarcerated reside.”

State and federal correctional facilities held an estimated 1.6 million prisoners on December 31, 2013, including a disproportionately high number of African American and Latino men who often reside in low-income urban areas before entering prison. 

Failing to count incarcerated individuals in their home communities also affects the federal resources these communities receive.  According to the Bureau, the census helps determine the allocation of more than $400 billion in federal dollars annually, including funding for critical projects like new schools and hospitals.  As a result, federal funding is shifted from prisoners’ home districts to the district in which the prison is located, which causes their families, neighbors and communities to suffer at the expense of communities to which they have no ties.

Earlier this year, the Federal District Court for Florida’s Northern District ruled that Jefferson County, Florida violated its residents’ 14th Amendment right by including the prison population in its district.

Some states have enacted legislation to prevent prison gerrymandering—requiring or encouraging local governments to count incarcerated citizens in their district of last known address rather than the district in which they are incarcerated. 

While the proposed rule would allow the states that have enacted legislation to prevent prison gerrymandering to continue doing so, the Members called on the Census Bureau to set a federal standard to prevent prison gerrymandering in all states.

The Members continued, “The Bureau should be commended for its proposed efforts in this matter.  However, it is clear the Census needs to do more to prevent prison gerrymandering by counting incarcerated prisoners at their last known address before incarceration, and not at their prison address.”

The letter was also signed by Reps. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-NY), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), Donald S. Beyer, Jr. (D-VA), Donna F. Edwards (D-MD), Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Stacey E. Plaskett (D-VI).