Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) has introduced legislation that would require the Michigan Department of Corrections (DOC) to report the pre-incarceration addresses of prisoners when providing 2020 census information for district populations counts.
Senate Bill 759 aims to end this practice and prevent another decade of “prison gerrymandering” from occurring that she said unjustly awards extra political power to the regions in which prisons are located, and thereby distorts democracy.
Under current law, incarcerated individuals are included in the census count results for the district in which their prison is located — even though they can’t vote and aren’t a part of the surrounding community — instead of being included in the count results of their previous residential district.
“As a member of the governor’s Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, I view my bill as part of our collective, continued effort to reform our criminal justice system,” Santana said. “Prisoners are people too, and they should be counted in their home communities if we are to build a truly representative democracy.”
Six states have passed legislation to end prison-based gerrymandering and count incarcerated people at home for redistricting purposes. Maryland and New York’s laws changed the 2011 redistricting. California, Delaware, Nevada and Washington state’s laws will apply after the 2020 Census.
During the last census count a decade ago, almost 2 million people were counted in the wrong place on Census Day, according to the Northampton, Mass.-based Prison Policy Initiative. In Michigan, this also has meant that only certain House and Senate districts, post-2000 census, met the federal minimum population requirements by claiming prisoners as constituents.
“We have a limited window to right this wrong,” Santana added. “As we prepare for the 2020 census, it is critical we have the most accurate population information to draw districts of equal and fair proportions.”