Hypocrisy on prison-based gerrymandering in Illinois

ChicagoNow calls out downstate politicians for hypocrisy, comparing their voting records to claims that they actually represent incarcerated people's interests.

by Peter Wagner, June 6, 2010

Angela Caputo of ChicagoNow

analyzed the voting records of lawmakers representing Illinois’ 21 most inmate-heavy House districts. Of the two-dozen bills analyzed, the Reporter found:

  • Six House members representing the state’s 21 most inmate-heavy districts voted at least two-thirds of the time against legislation around ex-offender jobs and education;
  • Eight voted against those same measures at least half of the time;
  • And, only one House member signed on as a co-sponsor to a piece of ex-offender legislation.”

That’s great research about one part of the hypocrisy of defending prison-based gerrymandering in Illinois. Caputo identifies the leading opponent of reform:

Among the chief opponents is Republican state Rep. Ron Stephens from Highland whose district includes Fayette County’s Vandalia Correctional Center.

I wrote in a comment on the article about another kind of hypocrisy:

Rep. Ford’s bill is not about funding. The bill is about creating one consistent policy state-wide for how legislative districts should be drawn. Should legislators draw districts around prisons and grant enhanced representation to the people who live next to prisons?

For state legislative purposes, Rep. Ron Stephens says yes. But his own constituents in Vandalia City, Fayette County, and 9 other rural counties with prisons and 4 other rural Illinois cities all disagree.

When those 15 rural places last drew their county and city legislative districts they choose reject the Census Bureau’s prison count and draw fair districts on the basis of actual population. In some of these places, doing things Rep. Stephens’ way would have meant giving some residents twice the influence over the future of their counties as other residents. If these counties can reject the Census Bureau’s prison count, so to should the state.

Writing that comment I couldn’t help but think of Elena Lavarreda’s recent post:

Often, the biggest proponents of maintaining prison-based gerrymandering are state legislative officials with prisons in their districts. The extra population, which can’t vote, leaves fewer real constituents to be responsible to. Many times, the advantage brought by prison-based gerrymandering at the state legislative level is large enough to fight for, but not so big that one looks unreasonable to fight for it. These officials have the luxury of crafting specious arguments in defense of prison-based gerrymandering because the impact is comparatively small.

County officials, however, do not have the same luxury. Their county board districts tend to be smaller, so a single large prison could be the majority of the district. Granting some people who live near a prison more than twice the influence than others over their government simply doesn’t make sense. That’s why every county but one which has had to grapple with prison-based gerrymandering has rejected the practice, and excluded the prisoners when drawing their districts.

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