Census should count prisoners as residents of their home communities
The US Census Bureau counts incarcerated felons as residents of correctional facilities, instead of their home communities. That’s fundamentally wrong, and at odds with the Census’ duty to provide a true picture of the nation.
In practice, the Census rule is a form of gerrymandering, funneling political power and resources away from mostly urban communities to the often-rural areas that host prisons, even as some state laws declare that incarceration does not change a person’s residence.
In 2010, thanks chiefly to then-Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (now the top House Democrat; one top co-sponsor was Assemblyman Michael Benjamin, now a member of The Post Editorial Board), New York ended prison gerrymandering. In total, 13 states counted the incarcerated as residents of their home communities for redistricting purposes in the 2020 redistricting cycle. Four other states (Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan and Tennessee) have taken steps to join them.
In 2012, some NY lawmakers with large prisons in their districts sued to undo the Empire State’s reform — and lost, because the Constitution only requires a census be taken every 10 years and every person counted. It’s merely a Census Bureau convention that lists inmates as residing in their place of incarceration. But significant federal funding still follows the Census count.
Yet the Census counts truckers, boarding-school students, military personnel and others who are away on Census Day as residents of their true homes because the Bureau acknowledges the importance of family and community ties. Inmates should get similar recognition.
The Census Bureau’s now seeking public input as it prepares for its 2030 count. This issue belongs at the top of the list.