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Representatives Lawlor and Holder-Winfield announce legislation to end prison-based gerrymandering

March 31, 2010

National advocates release report showing 7 Connecticut legislative districts are missing 5% of their required population, distorting democracy

New Haven, Conn., March 25, 2010 – Today, State Representatives Mike Lawlor and Gary Holder-Winfield joined Miles Rapoport, former Connecticut secretary of state and president of Demos, and Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative to announce new legislation that would end Connecticut’s practice of counting prisoners as resident of their cellblocks instead of their neighborhood blocks when drawing legislative districts.

The federal Census counts incarcerated people as if they resided where the prison is located, and that creates big problems for democracy in Connecticut, charges a new report announced today by the non-profit Prison Policy Initiative. American democracy relies on Census counts to apportion political power on the basis of equal population. By Connecticut law, prisoners can’t vote and remain residents of their home communities. Yet, for drawing legislative districts Connecticut miscounts prisoners as residents of prisons and distorts the constitutional principal of “one person, one vote.”

“By relying on Census Bureau counts of prison populations to pad legislative districts with prisons, Connecticut is inflating the votes of residents who live near prisons at the expense of every other resident. Our bill will end this distortion of voter power,” said State Representative Mike Lawlor of East Haven, who chairs the Joint Committee on Judiciary. “This bill will align our redistricting practice with Connecticut law.”

“When someone goes to prison, everyone in their community has their vote diluted. Counting prisoners as residents of the prison districts where they do not vote or otherwise participate in those communities is simply bad policy,” said State Representative Gary Holder-Winfield of New Haven. “The voting power of the people in the largely poor and minority communities prisoners come from is further diluted, making it more difficult for those communities to advocate for the resources and services everyone needs to better their lives and end the cycle of poverty and crime. While no neighborhood can afford to lose political representation, the current miscount particularly hurts these communities where there is a long history of concern about political representation. We must be particularly sensitive to this issue here.”

According to the report released today, the state’s prison population comes disproportionately from some cities. 13.6 percent and 15.2 percent of Connecticut’s prisoners come from New Haven and Hartford, respectively, while each city is home to only 3.6% of the state’s population.

Without using prison populations as padding, 7 districts are missing more than 5 percent of their required population. Each House district in Connecticut should have 22,553 residents. Yet, district 59, which claims the populations of two large prisons, has only 19,200 actual residents.

“The miscount also creates problems for local redistricting, not just state legislative redistricting,” explained Peter Wagner. “Towns such as Cheshire have been forced to draw council districts that are severely malapportioned because they treat prison populations as if they were actual residents, meaning that one district had 4900 actual voters while another had only 3700.”

This 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. Every decade, states use federal census data to update their legislative district boundaries. The Census Bureau counts people in prison where their bodies are located on census day, not where they come from and where they will return, on average, 34 months later. This Census practice undermines the rule of law.

“Not only does the way we count prisoners distort democracy, it’s contrary to Connecticut law,” said Miles Rapoport, former Connecticut secretary of state and president of Demos, a non-partisan public policy research and advocacy organization.

Connecticut law, like most other states, doesn’t recognize a prison as a legal residence. General Statutes of Connecticut S 9-14 states that, “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.”

“It’s only fair that we count prisoners from their last home address,” stated Representative Holder-Winfield. “Under the law, incarcerated people are residents of their home addresses and should be counted there.”

“It is inconsistent with our laws and basic democratic principles of our republic to continue a practice that inflates the political influence of people within a legislative district with a correctional facility and dilutes the influence of the surrounding communities and the home districts of the incarcerated persons,” said Representative Lawlor. “This time around, the Census Bureau’s distribution of the important data of where incarcerated persons reside allows us to correct this injustice and to ensure that the redistricting process is fair and equitable to everyone in Connecticut.”

Today’s event was hosted by Yale Law School and sponsored by the Arthur Liman Public Interest Program at Yale Law School, the school’s chapter of the American Constitution Society, and Dwight Hall at Yale, the university’s center for public service and social justice.

The Prison Policy Initiative report is available at http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/news/2010/03/31/yaleevent/.

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