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New Report: “Accuracy Counts”

April 8, 2004

For Immediate Release
April 8, 2004

Contact Information:
Natalia Kennedy, 212 998–6736

New Report: Census Should Count Prisoners in Home Commnnities, Not Prisons
Inaccurate Data Deprives Communities of Funding, Misinforms Policymakers

New York, NY—A report released today by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law calls for a change in the Census Bureaus current practice of counting prisoners where they are incarcerated instead of their home communities.

The report, Accuracy Counts: Incarcerated People and the Census, examines the consequences of the Census Bureaus treatment of prisoners in combination with powerful trends in criminal justice policy, including tough on crime legislation, rural prison siting and the return of hundreds of thousands of formerly incarcerated people to their urban communities. The report concludes that Census Bureau policy has negative social, fiscal and political consequences for vulnerable urban communities. Specifically, many communities receive less than their fair share of the public resources for employment services, transitional housing, mental health, and drug treatment programs needed to successfully re-integrate ex-offenders back into society.

Prisoners should be counted in their home communities, said Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), a leader in Congress on the issue of prisoner re-entry. These are the communities they will most likely return to, and it is crucial that we allocate resources to help communities provide much needed services to their returning members.

The Census always has sought to be accurate and fair, said Dr. Kenneth Prewitt, Director of the Census Bureau from 1998 to 2001. To meet these goals, we can no longer ignore the reality of the prison boom in this country. With over 650,000 people returning home from prison each year, we need to provide a clear picture of these communities so that policymakers can make informed decisions.

The report recommends that, to improve the accuracy and fairness of the census count, the 2010 census should:

  • Count incarcerated people as residents of their home communities
  • Select a uniform procedure to count incarcerated people
  • Provide meaningful information to users of Census data
The report explains that the unprecedented numbers of Americans behind bars have changed the demographic landscape of the nation. The war on drugs has more than tripled the prison population, and U.S incarcerates more than 2 million people. Each day, 1,600 people leave prison, the vast majority returning to the communities in which they lived prior to incarceration.

To be effective, public policy must be built on an accurate reflection of this new demographic reality. Federal and state laws mandate that Census data be used to draw political districts, distribute political power, and allocate billions of taxpayer dollars. Census data also affects decisions made by elected officials, social service organizations, and businesses regarding where to locate a range of important community resources such as libraries and hospitals.

Americas formerly incarcerated people are returning home in record numbers, said Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL). As policymakers, we are committed to public safety and strong communities. We need to provide our communities with the proper resources to make sure their transition is a successful one-the Census is the first step in that process.

Accuracy Counts: Incarcerated People and the Census also explains how the Census Bureaus usual residence rule has changed over the years to minimize inconsistencies. The report concludes that the usual residence rule should again be revised to account for the fact that prisoners have virtually no contact with the community surrounding the prison, and that most prisoners return to their home communities.

The Census can fix this problem before the 2010 count2C said Patricia Allard, co-author of the report and associate counsel at the Brennan Center. Formerly incarcerated people need social services and programs in their communities and policymakers need to have the right information to provide those services to them.

For more information or to receive a copy of the report, please contact Natalia Kennedy at (212) 998–6736 or visit our website at


Congressional briefing sponsored by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), and William Clay (D-MO).

On Wednesday, April 14, from 12 noon to 1:30 PM, the authors of Accuracy Counts and other presenters will discuss the study and its recommendations. The location is 2247 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. For more information on the briefing, please contact Natalia Kennedy at (212) 998–6736.