Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: Connecticut

50 State Guide, March 2010

Prison-based gerrymandering violates the constitutional principle of “One Person, One Vote.” The Supreme Court requires districts to be based on equal population in order to give each resident the same access to government. But a longstanding flaw in the Census counts incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, even though they can’t vote and aren’t a part of the surrounding community.

When legislators claim people incarcerated in their districts are legitimate constituents, they award people who live close to the prison more of a say in government than everybody else.

Impact at the state level:

  • The state’s prison population comes disproportionately from some cities:
    • New Haven is home for 3.6% of the state, but 13.6% of its incarcerated people.
    • Hartford is home for 3.6% of the state, but 15.2% of its incarcerated people.
  • After the 2000 Census, each House district in Connecticut should have had 22,553 residents. District 59, which claims the populations of two large prisons, however, had only 19,200 actual residents.
  • Without using prison populations as padding, seven districts were missing more than 5% of their required population.
  • Crediting all of Connecticut’s incarcerated people to a few locations enhances the political clout of the people who live near prisons, while diluting voting power of all other Connecticut residents.

Impact at the local level:

  • The city of Enfield, which contains Enfield and Willard Correctional Institution and Robinson Correctional Institution, adjusted 2000 Census data when it redistricted. If the city had based its districts on Census Bureau prison counts, 30% of the third district’s population would have been incarcerated, giving every group of 70 residents near the prison as much influence as 100 residents elsewhere in the city.
  • More research needs to be done in the town of Cheshire as the town contains a large prison population relative to their actual population. Unless the prison populations were removed from the redistricting base after the last Census, the town has one or more districts that are significantly padded with non-resident prison populations. See the Democracy Toolkit for a suggested research methodology.

Connecticut law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • “No person shall be deemed to have lost his residence in any town by reason of his absence therefrom in any institution maintained by the state.” (General Statutes of Connecticut § 9-14.)

Pending legislation (as of March 2010):

  • General Assembly Bill No. 5523

Other solutions:

  • All Connecticut towns that contain prisons should adopt Enfield’s solution even if the Connecticut legislature does not pass the state-wide bill in time.
  • Ideally, the U.S. Census Bureau would change where it counts incarcerated people. They should be counted as residents of their home — not prison — addresses. There is no time for that in 2010, but Connecticut should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020.

Additional resources:

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