GRANVILLE COUNTY, N.C. — The Town of Butner, North Carolina is perhaps best known for its temporary residents.


Prison gerrymandering is when incarcerated people are counted in districts they are detained in rather than their home districts

Advocates say it results in the districts getting unequal power.

Rep. Deborah Ross co-introduced bill to end political gerrymandering


The Granville County community is home to the Butner Federal Correctional Institution, which once housed Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff and currently houses unabomber Theodore Kaczynski.

And while inmates have no choice but to stay within its confines they have been counted in the census as residents of the county.

“The people who are incarcerated at a place like the federal correctional institute here are not from Granville County for the most part,” said Southern Coalition for Social Justice Communications Advocate Gino Nuzzolillo

The organization is pushing to end what’s known as “prison gerrymandering.” It’s when incarcerated people are counted in the districts where they are detained rather than where their real homes are located.

“Boosts the political power of whiter, more rural, conservative areas like Granville County … but doesn’t allow any of those folks who are incarcerated here to have any say in how they are governed,” Nuzzolillo said.

The result is that the districts retain unequal power compared to those without prisons, especially areas that have many incarcerated people.

Advocates say this creates a disadvantage for some communities of color. It’s an inequity that’s become more pronounced as the country’s prison population has grown.

“It can wreak chaos on local, city and county government districts,” said Prison Policy Initiative Communications Director Mike Wessler.

In Granville County the Prison Policy Initiative said after the 2010 census incarcerated people, who can’t vote, made up 41% of one of the county’s districts.

That means the residents in that district, who weren’t incarcerated, had significantly more power than their neighbors in other districts.

“They have more access to that elected official, might be easier to organize,” Nuzzolillo said.

“That prisoner is really just being used as a body, as a pawn for having a smaller representation in a district,” said (D-NC) Rep. Deborah Ross.

Ross co-introduced a bill this month that would require the U.S. Census Bureau to count incarcerated people at their last place of residence rather than the prison holding them at the time of the count.

It’s something 12 in the country have already done, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. But the bill will likely face pushback from some rural areas that would lose power and funding if inmates were no longer counted in their districts.

“We need to make sure that this equal representation, this idea of truly one person, one vote, is done at a national level,” Ross said.

Granville County took its own action.

The board of commissioners recently voted to stop counting incarcerated people, in essence making the inmates of Butner invisible. A decision on whether to count them in their home districts would have to made by state or federal lawmakers.