NBC News

States Move to Outlaw ‘Prison Gerrymandering': Where Do Inmates Really Live?

Last week, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, signed a bill to make his state the latest to require that prisoners be counted at their pre-incarceration addresses — instead of where they're serving time

Prisoners count. But where? That's a question state lawmakers across the country are grappling with as the 2020 census approaches, NBC News reports.

The Census Bureau currently counts prisoners as residents of the locations where they're imprisoned, and states use the census data to draw their legislative maps. While a significant number of correctional facilities are located in comparatively rural areas that are largely Republican and predominantly white, prisoners tend to hail from urban, often Democratic communities and are disproportionately minorities, criminal justice experts told NBC News.

Advocates of change, including many Democrats, say it's unfair to count prisoners as residents of communities whose demographic makeup and needs differ from the places the inmates call home. But supporters of the status quo, including many Republicans, say prisoners should be counted where they're incarcerated, both because of longstanding tradition and because communities where prisons are located need to receive adequate funding for the services they provide.

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