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HRDC comment filed with Census Bureau re counting prisoners - Sept 2016

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Human Rights Defense Center

September 1, 2016

Submitted via Email Only to:

Karen Humes, Chief
Population Division
U.S. Census Bureau, Room 6H174
Washington, D.C. 20233
Re: Comment on Proposed 2020 Census Residence Criteria
and Residence Situations
Dear Ms. Humes,
The Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) submits this comment to the U.S. Census Bureau
(Bureau) concerning the Proposed 2020 Census Residence Criteria and Residence Situations,
published in the Federal Register on June 30, 2016.
The Bureau has indicated that it will continue to count prisoners at their correctional facilities for
residency purposes for the 2020 Census. While we understand the Bureau has taken this position
based on the definition of “usual residence,” we raise the following objections.
First, regardless of basing residency criteria on where people live and sleep, it is disingenuous
to suggest that prisoners are “residents” of the locales where correctional facilities are located.
Comparably, most reasonable people would agree that concentration camp detainees at Dachau,
Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz, located near towns of the same names, were not “residents” of
those local communities. Yet that is apparently the position the Bureau has taken.
The Bureau has adopted rules that provide different census treatment for people attending
boarding schools, members of Congress and military personnel deployed overseas; yet while
prisoners share many of the same characteristics of those groups, the Bureau intends to count
them as residents of the communities where they are incarcerated and not where they lived
before they were locked up. This is illogical for a number of reasons, including:

Prisoners’ “residence” at correctional facilities is not voluntary; they have no say where
they are held, and such forced residency should not be counted as voluntary residency.


Prisoners cannot vote and are largely excluded from participation in the local community.
P.O. Box 1151
Lake Worth, FL 33460
Phone: 561-360-2523 Fax: 866-735-7136

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There is a disparate racial impact when black and Latino prisoners, who are overrepresented in our nation’s prison system, are counted as “residents” of the primarily
white, rural communities where prisons are often located – for example, the many
correctional facilities sited in upstate New York.


The location of prisoners at any given facility is not static; prisoners are regularly
transferred from one prison to another, thus it cannot reasonably be said that a given
facility is their “usual residence.”

In the latter regard, speaking from my own empirical experience, I was incarcerated
in Washington State prisons for 17 years prior to my release in 2003; during that time I was
transferred 7 times. Our associate director, Alex Friedmann, served 10 years in both county jails
and state prisons prior to his release in 1999, and during that period served time at 6 different
facilities. Following our release we both returned to our homes – our residences – where we
had lived before we were incarcerated.
In fact, around 95% of people presently in prison will one day be released. Does the
Bureau seriously think they will remain at the prison or the community surrounding the prison
upon their release? Or is it more likely that they will return to their pre-incarceration homes,
families and children – i.e., the residences where they lived prior to being imprisoned?
Note that upon release, prisoners are typically given a small amount of “gate money”
and a bus ticket or other means of transportation. Obviously, prison officials recognize that most
prisoners will not be staying at or near the prison upon their release, but will return home – thus
the prison system provides them the means of getting there. If correctional facilities were truly
prisoners’ “residence,” which is the position the Bureau has taken, then bus tickets upon release
wouldn’t be necessary. That makes no sense, of course, just as the Bureau’s policy of counting
prisoners as residents of the facilities where they are incarcerated makes no sense.
Further, note that city and county jails primarily hold pre-trial detainees who have not
been convicted and are awaiting trial. As such, they are eligible to vote to the same extent as
other citizens so long as they meet other applicable eligibility requirements. And when pre-trial
detainees vote, it is not as residents of the district where the jail is located; rather, they vote via
absentee ballot for the district where they resided before being incarcerated – i.e., their actual
residence. 1
Approximately 2.3 million people are incarcerated in prisons and jails in the United
States, and the Bureau’s practice of inaccurately reporting the residences of those individuals as
being the communities where the facilities are located is as great an error as failing to accurately
report the entire state populations of North Dakota (756,927 population), Wyoming (586,107
population) and Vermont (626,042 population), combined. 2


See: and (for Los Angeles County)
Based on Bureau estimates as of July 1, 2015, available at

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While we realize the Bureau has proposed to “incorporate similar group quarters
information in the standard Redistricting Data (Pub. L. 94-171) Summary File for 2020,” that
simply does not go far enough because the actual Census data will continue to count prisoners
as residing where correctional facilities are located, which is not accurate.
In conclusion, the Census Bureau is tasked with conducting a decennial national census
pursuant to Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution. We submit that counting prisoners as
residents of the local communities where correctional facilities are located is inaccurate and
skews the census results. If the Bureau endeavors to ensure accuracy in its work, that practice
must end; the census should be done correctly or not at all if the results are flawed.
Thank you for your time and attention in this regard.

Paul Wright
Executive Director, HRDC