Proposed Bill Would Allow U.S. Census to Count Prisoners

The 2020 U.S. Census starts this January, but state Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-8th) said he is hoping a proposed bill he sponsored in the Illinois House gets passed in time for prison inmates to be counted as part of their hometown population.

“As it stands now, individuals incarcerated will be counted but will not be counted as part of their hometown,” said Ford. “They will be counted in the town where they are currently incarcerated even though once they are released, they are more than likely to return to their hometowns, like Chicago.”

House Bill 203 is the No Representation Without Population Act and would allow inmates, who are predominately black and Hispanic, according to Illinois Department of Corrections records, to be counted at their legal residence. That also means the $1,800 per person counted by the Census would go to the hometown for the next 10 years and not another municipality.

“Most Illinois prisons are located downstate in rural towns occupied mostly by whites and they’re the ones who will receive those federal dollars for the next 10 years (until the next census occurs),” explained Ford. “That means if you have an inmate from the Austin neighborhood on the West Side but is serving time downstate, Austin, Chicago and Cook County misses out on all that money.”

The Illinois and U.S. Constitutions both say all residents of the state must be counted at their legal residence for the purpose of redistricting.

“Illinois courts are clear that prison is not a legal residence,” added Ford, whose West Side district includes mostly black neighborhoods. “Therefore, Illinois’ current practice of counting the 47,500 prisoners at their prison address violates this legal residency requirement.”

Lindsey Hess, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections, said the department does not comment on potential legislation.

“We will review the bill once it is introduced,” said Hess.

Blacks are already among a core group of people the U.S. Census has identified as hard to reach for the census.

One problem with getting blacks to participate is a lack of Internet access, according to Cory Stevenson, a partnership specialist in the Chicago regional office for the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Not everyone, especially in rural areas, have Internet access and sometimes that makes it difficult for those individuals to participate,” he said. “Seniors, minorities and low-income individuals are among the core groups the census has identified as hard to reach. We know many seniors do not feel comfortable giving their personal information over the phone, and therefore may choose not to participant at all.”

Other groups that are hard to contact for the census include veterans, the homeless, children, college students, renters, and Millennials.According to census data, Illinois has a population of 12.5 million, Chicago 2.7 million, and Cook County 5.2 million.

The U.S. Census, which occurs nationally every 10 years, will be conducted next year from January to April, and all residents including undocumented immigrants can participate by phone, online or mail.

Jeanine Beasley, also a partnership specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau, said the Census is partnering with organizations in Chicago to help with outreach efforts to contact those groups hard to reach. The state of Illinois allocated $29 million for census outreach while Cook County allocated another $2 million.

“On March 27, 30 and 31 we will hit the streets with our community partners to reach those core groups like the homeless,” added Beasley. “We will go to homeless shelters, prisons, colleges, senior homes, and any place where there’s a large group of people sharing the same address to make sure they are counted.”

She added residents could go online to for more information about the census or to receive help filling out a form.

And according to U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL-2), Illinois stands to lose more than billions of dollars over the next decade if everyone does not get counted in the upcoming census.

“It is important that everyone is counted in the census. If not, Illinois stands to lose as much as $1 billion a year for the next 10 years in federal funding,” said Kelly. “And if we lose this funding Illinois residents would see drastic cuts to Medicaid, federal student loans, food stamps, and highway funding.”




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