The Census Bureau boasted in its 2010 View from the States,” that it has listened to state requests and is working toward helping states facilitate the latest redistricting trend: prisoner reallocation. The Bureau announced that it would conduct a feasibility study regarding prisoner reallocation – counting prisoners at their last residential address, although a previous study nearly ten years go found it to be cost prohibitive.
Currently, the two states that have already endeavored to reallocate prisoners have used the Bureau’s Group Quarters file, which was released early during the 2010 census cycle for that purpose. The group quarters data however is very limited from an operational standpoint and both Maryland and New York had to supplement this file with its own state correctional agency data to implement their prisoner reallocation laws. The file only gave population data for prisons, no residential addresses were included.
The open question now is whether the Census Bureau has the resources to produce a product for 2020 that actually reallocates prisoners. James Whitehorne, the Census Bureau Acting Redistricting Data Office Chief says the Bureau has committed to a “residence rule review” in Fiscal 2015.
The Bureau will have to consider the scope of this project as well since prisoner populations are not the only misplaced species of population; military members, and college students are equally displaced and many states want the Bureau to address reallocation of these populations too.
Given all of these uncertainties it isn’t clear how a Census Bureau reallocation product could be ready for the 2020 redistricting cycle. In the meantime, the Bureau does plan to prepare and disseminate the group quarters file on the same day as states receive their official redistricting data file.