Census Corrections Show How Southern Communities Benefit From Prisons

FACING SOUTH, Maydha Devarajan, February 26, 2023

The issue of prison gerrymandering has existed since the census was first taken, but became more noticeable in the late 1970s and early 1980s alongside the explosion in prison populations.

In January, the U.S. Census Bureau released its first round of corrections for the 2020 population count. Among these corrections were revised counts for municipalities in Southern states where geographic boundary-related errors occurred, misplacing prisons. 

In Arkansas, Georgia, and Tennessee, these misplaced prisons meant some towns saw an increase to original population counts by thousands of people. In the town of Whiteville, Tennessee, the census count jumped from 2,606 to more than 4,500 when the population of a correctional facility was counted back after previously being attributed to another area in 2020, according to Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

For these corrections, the Census Bureau uses a process called the Count Question Resolution (CQR) operation, in which elected officials from tribal, state, and local governments can file a challenge and request a review of the census count for their jurisdiction if they suspect an error with boundary or housing counts. Annual population estimates can have significant political impacts in the form of redistricting and electoral representation.