NBCSL calls for end to prison-based gerrymandering
by Peter Wagner, January 6, 2011
The National Black Caucus of State Legislators just issued an important resolution calling for an end to prison-based gerrymandering. The resolution, LJE-11-03, passed at the 34th Annual Legislative Conference, calls on the Census Bureau to start counting incarcerated individuals at their addresses of residence, rather than the address of the prison, beginning with the 2020 Census. The National Black Caucus of State Legislators calls upon states to enact legislation modeled after the Delaware, Maryland, and New York laws that ended prison-based gerrymandering in those states. The resolution was sponsored by Maryland State Senator Catherine E. Pugh and Maryland Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk, who were also the lead sponsors of Maryland’s No Representation Without Population law that ended prison-based gerrymandering in that state.
The National Black Caucus of State Legislators has published the full text of all 23 conference resolutions on their website, and I’ve included the text of the prison-based gerrymandering resolution below.
Reform of prison-based census counting
WHEREAS, obtaining an accurate count of the population is so vital to representative democracy that the framers of the United States Constitution addressed the issue of the census and apportionment in the opening paragraphs of this governing document;
WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court requires state and local government to redraw legislative districts each decade on the basis of population, so as to ensure each resident the same access to government;
WHEREAS, the United States Census Bureau (Census Bureau) currently has a policy of counting incarcerated individuals at the address of the correctional institution, rather than their residential address;
WHEREAS, African Americans are incarcerated at a rate six times higher than whites; WHEREAS, the majority of state and federal prisons are built disproportionately in white, rural areas;
WHEREAS, counting incarcerated individuals as residents of the prison community has a particularly negative effect on the ability of African American communities to elect their candidates of choice and receive appropriate and adequate political representation;
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;
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 individuals and to study the best way to use those addresses;
WHEREAS, the Census Bureau recognized the demand from states and counties for data that better reflect their actual populations, and has agreed to release data on prison populations to states in time for redistricting, enabling each state to individually adjust the population data used for redistricting; and
WHEREAS, Delaware, Maryland, and New York State recognized the need for equal representation based on the concept of “one person, one vote” and swiftly passed state laws requiring legislative districts to be drawn based on population data adjusted to reflect the actual residence of incarcerated individuals.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) believes that the Census Bureau should count incarcerated individuals at their addresses of residence, rather than the address of the prison during the 2020 and all future decennial Censuses;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that until the Census Bureau counts incarcerated individuals at their actual residential addresses, the NBCSL encourages states to enact legislation modeled after the Delaware, Maryland, and New York laws;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be sent to the chair of each state legislative Black Caucus, the presidents of the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments, the director of the United States Census Bureau, and the presiding officers of all 50 state legislatures; and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that a copy of this resolution be transmitted to the President of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate, and other federal and state government officials as appropriate.