A portrait of Peter Wagner.
Peter Wagner
Executive Director
I need your help. For 14 years, the Prison Policy Initiative has been at the forefront of the movement to keep the prison system from exerting undue influence on our electoral process. Our work has changed how our democracy works in 4 states and hundreds of local governments. We've even won at the Supreme Court, but our long-term viability depends on people like you investing in our work.

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—Peter Wagner
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What could be worse than suppressing someone’s right to vote?

by Elena Lavarreda, May 3, 2010  

Dr. Daniel E. Loeb recently wrote a compelling piece for The Philadelphia Jewish Voice entitled, Political Prisoners in the United State? Depoliticizing our Criminal System?

Loeb grapples with the concept of “political prisoner” and asks, “Does the United States actually have political prisoners?”

There might be many reasons why the answer to the question is a firm “yes!”, but in Dr. Loeb’s piece he discusses two ways in which, “…millions of American citizens in the criminal justice system … are pawns in our political system”; first, through “voter suppression”, and second, through the “enumeration of prisoners”.

After a discussion of voter suppression, he asks the reader:

What could be worse that suppressing someone’s right to vote?

He cleverly answers:

Stealing their right to vote and attributing it to someone else.

Otherwise known as–prison-based gerrymandering! Loeb clearly demonstrates the negative state and local level impact that counting prisoners as residents of their prison cell has on American democracy, but he finds room for optimism. He applauds the Census Bureau for their early release of the group quarter counts:

Fortunately, the census bureau has become more attentive to the situation. Census Director Robert Groves has agreed to identify which census blocks contain group quarters such as correctional facilities early enough so that state and local redistricting bodies can choose to use this data to draw fair districts.

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