Peter Wagner, Executive Director
I need your help. For more than a decade, the Prison Policy Initiative has been at the forefront of the movement to expose how mass incarceration undermines our national welfare. We've won major civil rights victories in local governments, state legislatures and even the Supreme Court. But our long-term viability depends on people like you investing in our work.

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—Peter
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Phantom Constituents Behind Bars — New York Times editorial

by New York Times, May 2, 2006  

Demographers and voting rights advocates are rightly pressuring the Census Bureau to begin counting the nation’s 1.4 million prison inmates at their home communities — and not as “residents” of the prisons, the current practice. Counting the inmates at prison inflates the prison community’s population and political influence, while draining political clout from the communities where inmates actually live.

Most Americans aren’t aware that prisoners are counted as part of the population in the electoral district where they serve time — even though they often live hundreds of miles away and are barred from voting in all but two states. But recent evidence shows that voters in nonprison communities become outraged when they learn that nonvoting prison populations in adjacent districts are being leveraged against them. When made aware of the scheme, voters typically demand that the inmates be dropped from the district count so as not to skew local legislative authority. But state legislatures inevitably include inmates in the count when drawing state legislative districts, which shifts political power from the places were inmates actually live to the prison districts.

The Census Bureau balked and raised unconvincing excuses recently when Congress asked it to consider a system that would count inmates at home instead of at prison. But the prison census controversy is a potentially explosive issue whose time has clearly come.

The bureau should get busy on a system for counting inmates where they live as opposed to where they do time.

Meet us

  • December 17, 2014:
    Board Member Ruth Greenwood will present a Continuing Legal Education seminar entitled “Current Trends in Voting Rights” at the Chicago Bar Association, from 12.15-1.30pm.
  • February 20, 2015:
    Executive Director Peter Wagner, Board Member Amanda Alexander and Advisory Board Member Bruce Reilly will present on a panel entitled “The fight against mass incarceration: Combining litigation and policy work for systemic change” at RebLaw at Yale Law School from 3-4:30pm.

Not near you?
Invite us to your city, college or organization.

Events

  • December 17, 2014:
    Board Member Ruth Greenwood will present a Continuing Legal Education seminar entitled “Current Trends in Voting Rights” at the Chicago Bar Association, from 12.15-1.30pm.
  • February 20, 2015:
    Executive Director Peter Wagner, Board Member Amanda Alexander and Advisory Board Member Bruce Reilly will present on a panel entitled “The fight against mass incarceration: Combining litigation and policy work for systemic change” at RebLaw at Yale Law School from 3-4:30pm.

Not near you?
Invite us to your city, college or organization.

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