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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;[1] 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;[2] 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;[3] and

WHEREAS, African-Americans are incarcerated at a rate 6 times higher than whites;[4] and

WHEREAS, the majority of state and federal prisons are built in disproportionately white rural areas;[5] and

WHEREAS, counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison community has a particularly negative affect on the voting strength of African-American communities;[6] 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;[7] 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;[8] and

WHEREAS, in 2008, the NAACP convention in Cincinnati called on the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people as residents of their home addresses;[9] 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;[10] 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”;[11] 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;[12] 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;[13] 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;[14] and

WHEREAS, the Census Bureau has agreed, for the first time, to release data on prison populations to states in time for redistricting;[15] 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;[16] 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;[17] 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.[18]

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.

Footnotes:

[1] Wright, B. (2009) A Dilution of Democracy: Prison-Based Gerrymandering. Demos:
New York, NY.

[2] Prison Policy Initiative (February 28, 2010) Prisoners of the Census.

http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/impact.html

[3] Staples, 8. (February 6, 2009) The Census: Phantom Constituents,

http://theboard.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/06/thecensus-phantom-constituents/

[4] Mauer, M. & R. King (July 2007) Uneven Justice: State Rates of Incarceration
By Race and Ethnicity. The Sentencing Project: Washington, DC.

[5] Tilove, J. (March 12, 2002) Minority Prison Inmates Skew Local Populations as States Redistrict, Newhouse News Service.

[6] Wright. B. & L. Danetz (017260) Brief Amici Curiae in Support of Plaintiff Appellant Jalil Abdul Muntaqim, A/K/A Anthony Bottom, Urging Reversal of the District Court, on Behalf of National Voting Rights Institute and Prison Policy Initiative.

[7] Census Advisory Committee Office (January 26, 2005) Recommendations of the Census Bureau’s African American Advisory Committee. U.S. Census Bureau: Washington, DC.

[8] Roberts, S. (September 15, 2006) Panel Recommends Change in How Prisoners are
Counted in U.S. Census, New York Times.

[9] Resolutions (Fall 2008) XIII. Legislative: 2. Calling for the NAACP to Begin
Mobilization Efforts for Census 2010. The Crisis, 54.

[10] Richburg, K. (April 26, 2009) Before Census, a Debate Over Prisoners. The
Washington Post.

[11] Branch #4003 CRCC-NAACP (2009) Resolution: Call for the End of “Prison-Based Gerrymandering”.

[12] LoBianco, T. (December 17, 2009) Blacks seek urban efforts for census. The Washington Times; Morello, C. (December 17, 2009) Black leaders urge census to change how it counts inmates, The Washington Post.

[13] United States Census 2010 (9-25-2008) Form D-61.

[14] Clay W. (October 6, 2009) Dr. Robert M. Groves, Director, U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census. Congress of the United States; House of Representatives; Information Policy, Census and National Archives Subcommittee, Chairman.

[15] Groves, M. (February 22, 2010) Prepared Statement of Robert M. Groves, Director, U.S. Census Bureau; 2010 Census: Enumerating People Living in Group Quarters; Before the Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census and National Archives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform United States House of Representatives: New York, NY.

[16] 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&sectiontree=729&itemid334

[17] 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.

[18] 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.

2 Responses

  1. Prison-based gerrymandering’s striking resemblance to the infamous Three-fifths clause | Prisoners of the Census says, 1 year, 4 months after publication:

    […] it may sound strange at first, the second best option is for incarcerated populations to be removed from redistricting data altogether. The video I watched was about this second approach. Wisconsin 2009 Assembly Joint Resolution 63 […]

  2. Prison-based gerrymandering's Prison-Based Gerrymandering's Striking Resemblance to Infamous Three-Fifths Clause says, 1 year, 4 months after publication:

    […] it may sound strange at first, the second best option is for incarcerated populations to be removed from redistricting data altogether. The video I watched was about this second approach. Wisconsin 2009 Assembly Joint Resolution 63 […]

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