Who are the real victims of prison-based gerrymandering?

by Peter Wagner, February 24, 2010

I find it disturbing to see prison-based gerrymandering portrayed as an urban vs rural issue. Why? Because the practice of padding some legislative districts with large prisons dilutes the votes of everyone who does not live next to a large prison. Rural and urban communities suffer about the same.

True, urban communities should have been credited with their true population, but the way the math works out, they suffer almost the exact same vote dilution as rural communities that do not contain prisons.

Democracy is not a zero sum game, and when the data that democracy depends on is flawed, even those who benefit in one way lose in another. The residents of some state senate districts, for example, get extra representation when their leaders claim incarcerated people as residents; but they often suffer in local government. For example, most of the residents of Rome New York have less access to city government than they should, because half of one city council district is incarcerated people who are not from Rome.

There are additional harms that I’m not going to address fully in this post. For example, padding a district with incarcerated people distorts the priorities of the “benefiting” district, dis-aligning the priorities of the district’s representatives and its actual residents. But like I said, prison-based gerrymandering is not an urban vs. rural issue.

2 Responses

  1. How Prison-Based Gerrymandering Hurts Rural Communities « Prison Law Blog says, 1 day, 19 hours after publication:

    […] pass a pending bill that would end prison-based gerrymandering in that state, click here.) But as Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative points out: the practice of padding some legislative districts with large prisons dilutes the votes of […]

  2. Prison-based Gerrymandering Distorts Democracy — and Luckily, Can Be Fixed without Distorting Federal Funding « Prison Law Blog says, 1 month, 1 week after publication:

    […] that happen to house prisons, at the expense of the urban districts where most prisoners come from, as well as all the rural districts that don’t have prisons. In many states, there are entire legislative districts that […]

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