The Census Bureau will count prisoners as residents of the localities in which they are incarcerated rather than their home towns in the 2020 census. That’s the bureau’s longstanding practice, but advocates had hoped to push through a change, reports Axios. It matters because lawmakers use census data to draw proportional legislative and Congressional districts. Criminal justice reform advocates argue counting prisoners who can’t vote as residents of the towns where they’re incarcerated gives disproportionate representation to people who cast their ballots there. Only Maine and Vermont allow convicted felons to vote while in prison.
The Census Bureau said that, “Counting prisoners anywhere other than the facility would be less consistent with the concept of usual residence, since the majority of people in prisons live and sleep most of the time at the prison.” Aleks Kajstura of the Prison Policy Initiative responds that the decision “is inconsistent with the way the ‘usual residence’ rule is applied to other similarly-situated people. The Census Bureau is picking favorites based on economic and racial privilege: if boarding school students are deemed to live at home, then the same logic should be applied to incarcerated people.” The bureau said it received 77,995 public comments in 2016 calling for an overhaul of the policy, and 4 opposing a change. California, Delaware, Maryland and New York have passed laws mandating that prisoners be counted as residents of their home addresses, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. The Census Bureau has said it will work with states that want to opt out of its policy.