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New Maryland Law Changes Prisoner Census Head Count

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By Kamika Dunlap on April 23, 2010 11:15 AM

Maryland has become the first state to change they way it does a head count of prisoners in an effort to improve census data used for redistricting.

Under the new law, the census population data will require incarcerated persons to be counted as residents of their home addresses in order to ensure fairness and accuracy, the Washington Post reports.

The new law is an effort to correct past prison-based gerrymandering and balance the state's legislative power.

The state will redraw its local legislative districts after the 2010 census, requiring that prison inmates be counted at their home addresses.

The new law, No Representation Without Population Act (Senate Bill 400/House Bill 496) applies only to redistricting and would not affect federal funding distributions.

The law is the first in the nation to improve fairness and accuracy of the census data used for redistricting. So far, more than half a dozen states are expected to follow Maryland's lead.

Still, many states have laws saying that prisons are not legitimate residences but the practice has continued.

There are about 1.4 million inmates nationally. Typically, the practice of drawing districts around prisons pads both the the prison count and political landscape.

Baltimore is one of the areas that will be benefit the most from the new law. The city has 68 percent of the state's 25,000 prisoners who were living there before they were convicted.

Other states considering changes in how to count prisoners for redistricting include:

  • New York
  • Illinois
  • Florida
  • Wisconsin
  • Connecticut
  • Rhode Island
  • Oregon

Both the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and the NAACP Maryland chapters say that the new legislation will help an important civil rights challenge.

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