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Making the US Census Count for Corrections

February 5, 2020

By Rachel Friederich

DOC Communications

(Washington State Department of Social and Health Services)

The 2020 census is almost here. Every 10 years, this survey counts everyone living in the United States and is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

Statistics captured through the census provide multiple benefits to local communities. Data from the census is used to distribute federal funding to states for programs involving public safety, health care, education and transportation.

In 2016, Washington received nearly $17 billion (pdf) in federal assistance based on information collected during the 2010 census. Federal funding driven by the census has been used to provide the Washington State Patrol and local governments with funds to support multi-jurisdictional drug and gang task forces.

Census data is also used to determine the number of congressional seats in the US House of Representatives for each state.

The entirety of Washington State will likely be hearing a lot about the census over the next several months. Starting in March, the US Census Bureau will begin to reach out to households through a series of mailings. Corrections is also receiving materials to distribute to visitation rooms and field offices.

The census estimates it should take roughly 10 minutes to complete the 10 questions on the survey. One person fills out the census for the entire household and individuals are now able to complete it online, using a computer, smartphone or tablet. Responses can also be provided by phone or via a paper form through the mail.

The Office of Financial Management (OFM) has created a video to provide more general information on the census. OFM also has a census website.

The following are answers to some questions about the census as it relates to the Department of Corrections.

What’s with all the posters I am seeing around my workplace?

These posters are part of the Census 2020 toolkit. They contain information about the census, including when you will receive your census survey and how the Census Bureau uses the information you provide. Some worksites will also have brochures available for visitors and supervised individuals.

Where are incarcerated individuals being counted?

Per federal statute, the Census Bureau is counting incarcerated individuals at the correctional facility in which they reside on census reporting day, April 1, 2020.

If I work at a correctional facility, who will submit the census for my facility?

The DOC Research & Data Analytics Unit will submit data electronically for the census count of the incarcerated population in state correctional facilities. All of the data for incarcerated individuals will be provided to the Census Bureau in this way.

What about people on work release or who are under community supervision?

The DOC Research & Data Analytics Unit will submit data for the work release population. Jail administrators will submit data for individuals in jail on census reporting day. Supervised individuals living in a residence outside of a prison, work release or jail will receive the same census in the mail the general public receives.

Will Census Bureau workers visit my worksite to survey?

Maybe. A census worker may contact those working in a prison, work release or jail for a phone or in-person interview between February 3, 2020 and March 6, 2020 to verify the facility’s name, address, contact person, phone number and business email address and to collect an expected population count for the census reporting day, April 1, 2020.

They will ask to speak with the superintendent or other manager. They will never ask to enter a facility.

How do I identify a census worker?

All census workers should have an identification badge that includes their name, photograph, a Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date. They’ll also have official Census Bureau issued electronic devices, such as a laptop or smartphone with the Census Bureau logo.

Census field workers conduct their work only between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. local time.

What should I do if someone approaches me at work claiming to be a census worker?

You can call the Los Angeles Regional Census office at 1-800-922-3530 to verify their identity.

If you suspect the person might be part of a scam, report it to your supervisor immediately and do not let them in the facility.

What if I receive an email claiming to be from the Census Bureau?

Legitimate Census Bureau emails and links will always have a domain and will be encrypted. The Census Bureau will never initiate contact via email. If you receive an email claiming to be from the Census Bureau and it looks suspicious, do not open the email. Send it to the Fraud Reporting.

If incarcerated individuals are counted at their prisons, will this affect the redistricting process? Per federal statute, the Census Bureau counts incarcerated individuals at their prison addresses.

In 2019, Washington state enacted an anti-gerrymandering law ensuring people living in state prisons will be counted as residents of their last known home address prior to incarceration at the time new legislative districts are drawn. Washington is one of five states that have prison-based gerrymandering laws in place.

The Census Bureau will give these states access to address processing tools to allow them to account for incarcerated persons at their pre-incarceration home address for redistricting purposes.

Where can I learn more about the census?

The Washington Office of Financial Management has a website with a resource library containing fact sheets, a 15-minute video and more to help you understand what the census is, how data is collected and secured, how it affects representation and how to take it.