The U.S. Census Bureau has agreed to give states a tool that could dilute the political power of legislative districts that include prisons, the New York Times reports. In May 2011, in time for congressional and legislative reapportionment, the bureau will identify where group quarters like prisons are and how many people occupy them. States would have the option of counting them in the local population or not.
Says Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative, which favors non-prison sentences and urges that inmates be counted in their hometowns: “The census is going to say where the prisons are and how many people are in them, which will enable states the practical choice of counting them in the wrong place or not counting them at all.” Wagner and others had asked the bureau to determine the home addresses of inmates and to count them at those addresses, but the 2010 census process was too far along for that to be considered. Several states – including Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New York, and Wisconsin – may require that prisoners be counted at their last known address for reapportionment, a change that could favor larger and mostly Democratic cities.