NAACP branch passes resolution to end prison-based gerrymandering
by Peter Wagner, May 7, 2010
The NAACP has, at its last two annual conventions, passed resolutions calling for the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people as residents of their home addresses and for the association to lobby for change. Last year’s successful resolution was written by Branch #4003, incarcerated at the Crossroads Correctional Center in Missouri, and adopted by the general membership.
The branch has written a new resolution for 2010 (below) which was approved by the branch membership in late March. The resolution must be approved by the Missouri state conference before it can be considered by national officials this summer.–Peter
Resolution: End Prison-Based Gerrymandering
NAACP Branch #4003, Cameron, Missouri
WHEREAS, the U.S. Census Bureau counts people in prison as residents of the community that contains the prison, not the community that they are legal residents of and to which they will return; and
WHEREAS, census data is the basis for legislative districts, counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison community enhances the weight of a vote cast in a district with a prison while diluting the weight of votes in all other districts; and
WHEREAS, this practice, which has come to be known as “prison-based gerrymandering”, violates the US Supreme Court’s rule of “one person one vote” which requires that each person have the same access to government regardless of where they live; and
WHEREAS, African-Americans are incarcerated at a rate 6 times higher than whites; and
WHEREAS, the majority of state and federal prisons are built in disproportionately white rural areas; and
WHEREAS, counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison community has a particularly negative affect on the voting strength of African-American communities; and
WHEREAS, in 2003, the African-American subcommittee of the Census Bureau’s Race and Ethnic Advisory Committee recommended that the Census Bureau count prisoners as residents of their pre-incarceration addresses; and
WHEREAS, in 2006, the Census Bureau’s own advisors at the National Research Council called on the Bureau to begin collecting the home addresses of incarcerated people and to study the best way to use those addresses; and
WHEREAS, in 2008, the NAACP convention in Cincinnati called on the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people as residents of their home addresses; and
WHEREAS, in 2009, Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau, told the Washington Post that where incarcerated people are counted in the Census is a long-standing concern of the NAACP; and
WHEREAS, in 2009, the NAACP convention in New York reiterated its earlier resolution calling for the Census Bureau to change where prisoners were counted and decried the “enumeration of prisoners as local residents as violation of our nation’s fundamental one person one vote ethos of representational democracy, harkening back to the disgraceful three-fifths era of constitutionally sanctioned slavery”; and
WHEREAS, in December 2009, a dozen African-American leaders including representatives of the NAACP, NAACP LDF, National Urban League, Rainbow/PUSH,and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation met with Commerce Department Secretary Gary Locke to ask for a change in how incarcerated people are counted in the Census; and
WHEREAS, the U.S. Census Bureau ignored all of these recommendations, and in April 2010 again counted more than 2 million incarcerated citizens as residents of the prison wherein they were imprisoned; and
WHEREAS, Congressman William Lacy Clay (D) of Missouri Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census & National Archives, recognized that the Bureau had squandered the planning time necessary to change where prisoners are counted, negotiated a groundbreaking agreement to change how census counts of prisoners are reported to state and local governments; and
WHEREAS, the Census Bureau has agreed, for the first time, to release data on prison populations to states in time for redistricting; and
WHEREAS, Congressman Clay and voting rights advocates have urged states and local governments to take advantage of this more timely data to cease the practice of inflating the representation awarded to districts that contain prisons; and
WHEREAS, Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative, said in Congressional testimony that a national change in where incarcerated people are counted in the Census must wait until 2011 when planning begins for the next Census, but that eliminating prison-based gerrymandering now requires individual state and county action; and
WHEREAS, the impact of prison-based gerrymandering would be greatly reduced if state and county legislatures refused to credit prison districts with the incarcerated population.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the NAACP will continue to advocate to the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Department of Commerce and to the public that the Census count incarcerated people as residents of their homes; and
THEREFORE BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the NAACP concludes that until the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as residents of their homes, the fundamental principle of “one person one vote” would be best satisfied if redistricting committees refused to use prison counts to mask population shortfalls in districts that contain prisons; and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that until the Census Bureau can count incarcerated people as residents of their homes, the NAACP will encourage state and county legislatures to draw districts without regard to Census Bureau prison counts.
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 Branch #4003 CRCC-NAACP (2009) Resolution: Call for the End of “Prison-Based Gerrymandering”.
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 Engelhardt, S. (February 12, 2010) Clay applauds Census Bureau Decision to Change Reporting Procedure for Prisoners: Says decision will improve accuracy, restore fairness, reverse a historic injustice, PRESS RELEASE: Congressman Lacy Clay: http://lacyclay.house.gov.indexcfm?sectionid29§iontree=729&itemid334
 Wagner, P. (February 22, 2010) Testimony of Peter Wagner, Executive Director, Prison Policy Initiative, Before the Census, and National Archive Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
 Wright, B. (March 8, 2010) States are Authorized to Adjust Census Data to end Prison-Based Gerrymandering, and Many Already Do, Demos/Prison Policy Initiative.