Peter Wagner, Executive Director
I need your help. For more than a decade, the Prison Policy Initiative has been at the forefront of the movement to expose how mass incarceration undermines our national welfare. With a lot of hard work and generous support from a small network of individual donors, we've won major civil rights victories in local governments, state legislatures and even the Supreme Court. But our long-term viability depends on people like you investing in our work.

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—Peter
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by Aleks Kajstura, March 30, 2011

LaSalle Parish, in Louisiana, just redistricted their local government and School Board. There are two prisons located in the Parish: the LaSalle Correctional Center in Urania and the LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena.

According to The Jena Times:

After deducting the number of prisoners counted in the census at the two prisons in the parish – LaSalle Correctional Center in Urania and LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena – the remaining population to be used for reapportionment purposes was 13,921. When that number is divided by 10 – the number of districts in the parish – it reveals the ideal number of residents for each ward should be 1,392. However, reapportionment rules allow that districts may be 5 percent lower or higher than that figure to be acceptable. That placed the acceptable number of citizens for each district between 1,320 and 1,458.

If the prison population had been left in the redistricting data, Districts 3 and 7 would have had disproportionate representation in LaSalle government.

District 3 would have claimed the Correctional Center’s population as 38.7% of the district, giving every 61 actual residents the same say in government as 100 residents in the other districts that did not have a prison. District 7 would have been 28.6% incarcerated giving them a smaller, but still significant advantage of needing 71 actual residents for every 100 living elsewhere.

LaSalle joins over 100 local governments across the nation have taken the initiative to correct the problem themselves by manually adjusting flawed Census data. By the end of May, the Census Bureau will publish additional data to make the process even easier for governments who are still in the process of redistricting.

The final numbers for LaSalle were reported as:

District One, 1,297; District Two, 1,385; District Three, 1939, less the number of prisoners at LCC, leaving 1,361; District Four, 1,449; District Five, 1,555; District Six, 1,344; District Seven, 1,850, less the number of prisoners at LDF, leaving 1,423; District Eight, 1,388; District Nine, 1,387; and District Ten, 1,332.


by Aleks Kajstura, March 30, 2011

On March 21, state and national leaders testified before the Connecticut General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Judiciary at a hearing on HB6606, An Act Concerning the Determination of the Residence of Incarcerated Persons for Purposes of Legislative Redistricting. Video of the testimony is available now:

Julia Knight, a senior Ethics, Politics & Economics major at Yale university:

And as previously posted, Rep. Charlie L. Stallworth (D-126th Assembly District – Bridgeport):

An archived video of the hearing is available through the Connecticut Network, it includes other testimony on HB6606 as well as other bills heard that day. Submitted written testimony is also available on our Connecticut campaign page.


by Aleks Kajstura, March 30, 2011

As Illinois’ bill to end prison-based gerrymandering (HB 94, introduced by Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago)) moves through the House, elected officials in downstate Illinois are worried about equal representation coming at the cost of state aid to their communities. Ironically, HB 94 will have no impact on the amount of aid communities get while ensuring that everyone in the state has equal representation at local and state levels of government – the bill would only adjust redistricting data, while leaving funding formulas and other official population counts intact.

The Lawrence County, Illinois Daily Record reported on the problems faced by the county. When Lawrence County redistricts, the people incarcerated at the Lawrence Correctional Center would be counted as if they were residents of the county. The paper explains:

During this process, the Lawrence County Board will take the county’s total population and divide it evenly into seven legislative districts to ensure all residents have equal voting power. However, with inmates thrown into the mix, District 2, which contains the prison, will only have 49 people who can actually vote after redistricting takes place. These residents will have 50 times more voting power than residents in other districts.

For example, if two candidates were running for the District 2 seat on Lawrence County Board, one candidate would only need 25 votes to win the election. However, if the candidates were running in any other district, one would need 1,204 votes to win.

Such drastic inequalities would be fixed by HB 94, while the bill would also protect any state and federal funds that Lawrence may gain by having a prison within its borders.

A story on stltoday.com further questions the reasonableness of counting an involuntary and temporary population as if they were actual residents:

On current legislative maps, prisoners who serve even a two-year prison sentence are recorded as residents of the correctional center for the next 10 years.

This means that short-term inmates at Menard counted just as much toward equalizing the population of southwestern Illinois districts as lifelong residents and regular voters. They are represented by state Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Sparta, and state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville.

Reitz acknowledges that the current way of counting prisoners may not make the most sense.

“Unless they are there for a long time, it’s not a very good reflection,” said Reitz.

He would like to see the proposal amended to take into account the length of an inmate’s sentence, he said.

Rep. Reitz’s analysis is on the right track, and is supported by the bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Rita Mayfield Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan), who was quoted by Heartland News:

“There is documentation to support that over 85 percent of released inmates return to their pre-conviction addresses,” Mayfield said. “None stay in area surrounding prisons (unless they were originally from that area). Census numbers are not accurately reflected.”

Illinois law matches this reality, and explicitly states that an incarcerated person is not a resident of the prison location, but rather retains his permanent residence throughout his sentence.

Some try to argue that even if one prisoner leaves, another arrives, giving the prison the same population, but under Illinois law, none of the people incarcerated at the prison ever become residents of the town or district that the prison is in simply by their physical presence there.

The majority of Illinois counties already use adjusted redistricting data to prevent prison populations from skewing their residents’ political power. HB 94 would ensure that all residents of Illinois are equally represented at the state and local levels while leaving current funding streams untouched.


by Aleks Kajstura, March 29, 2011

In anticipation of upcoming redistricting efforts across the country, the Brennan Center recently published A Media Guide to Redistricting. It gives a great general overview of redistricting and gerrymandering of various kinds, and includes a short section on prison-based gerrymandering.

Our own Primer for reporters on redistricting
& prison-based gerrymandering
focuses on counties and other local governments that face redistricting with large prison populations.


by Aleks Kajstura, March 29, 2011

The Cleveland Free Press recently published an article on prison-based gerrymandering by Mansfield Frazier. Although Mr. Frazier would be happy to know that his concerns about losing federal funding based on Census Bureau prison population counts is unwarranted, his bigger concern is valid: Prisons in Ohio distort democracy in the state.

Our research on Ohio found that for the past decade Ohio House District 85 (in Ross, Pickaway and Fayette counties), was based on population data where 8.92% of the reported residents were actually prison populations. These disenfranchised prisoners are overwhelmingly from homes outside the district, meaning that the actual population of the district is very small. Every group of 91 residents in District 85 gets as much of a say over state affairs as 100 people living nearly everywhere else in the state.


by Bruce Reilly, March 29, 2011

For those of you in my home state, Prison-Based Gerrymandering might be well known, along with my comrades in New York, Delaware, or Maryland.  For the rest, please take this small state example and reach out for us to help you tackle your own location.

Over a year has passed since the first attempts to educate RI policy makers on the issue of Prison-Based Gerrymandering.  The 2010 Census data shows that the imprisoned “residents” of Cranston have grown by 6%.  Considering overall RI population growth is the lowest in America (0.4%), 26 times lower than the national average, it is time to count prisoners in their communities or continue the path of seriously imbalanced power.

A hearing was held in the Senate Judiciary on count prisoners in their communities rather than cellblocks.  Peter Wagner, from Prison Policy Initiative, has been a technical resource on this issue around the country, including successful legislative changes in New York, Delaware, and Maryland last year.  He noted that RI Dept. of Corrections has excellent data, and the U.S. Census Bureau officially adjusted their statistics this year so that the prisons can be more easily identified.

See the RI population numbers by prison, in Google Maps.

John Marion of Common Cause noted how every district loses by ceding power to those that contain the prisoners.  It is not about finances, but about the number of people one needs to represent.  He also pointed out that, under RI law, people do not lose their residence based on many things including going away to college, military service, or prison.  When Senator Hodgson inquired about the possibility of voters awaiting trial losing their residence by this, Steve Brown (ACLU) pointed out that someone awaiting trial would not be able to register as a resident of Cranston unless they were actually from there.  The Absentee Ballot would correspond with their “home address.”  Likewise, prisoners are not allowed to register their children in Cranston schools nor benefit from being a Cranston resident in any tangible way.

Tish DiPrete spoke on behalf of the Urban League about the overall lack of representation in urban areas, as they are traditionally undercounted already.  People move around quite often, and any city politician should know that many of their registered voters (who will indeed vote) have moved across town.  Considering the overall population numbers are reduced, and growth is low, urban representation needs to be repatriated.

A perfect example is how 27% of northern Smith Hill is vacant properties, the district will have to expand in order to have the adequate number of residents.  The ProJo recently published the populations of each current district, and whether they have too few, or too many, residents.  As the article points out, expanding territory into new towns creates a whole other set of commitments and demands.

Current House District 15 has 1,081 extra people, while also having 1,736 incarcerated non-voters padding the district.

Current House District 16 has 374 extra people, while also having 1,821 incarcerated non-voters padding the district.  This is currently Rep. Peter Palumbo’s district which clearly has the fewest vote-eligible people in Rhode Island.  Because of our consolidated prisons, RI ends up with one of the most affected districts in the nation due to prison-based gerrymandering.

In 1970, the ACI population represented 4% of a House district.  That number climbed to 6% in 1980, then 19% in 1990.  In 2000 the number rose to 23%, and now it is at 25%.

Consider the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls House District 56.  It has 360 incarcerated “residents” (2010 Census), up from 324 in year 2000.  Yet anyone who has been following the Wyatt saga (if not, search “Wyatt” on this site) knows this population has been over 700 during the past decade, and possibly only the death of a detainee has halved the number.  Incidentally, CF District 56 is up 984 people.  Shedding the Wyatt would make its expansion a matter of blocks, rather than neighborhoods.

What of the Senate implications, you ask?  They are half as blatant, considering there are half as many districts.  Currently, all 3557 Cranston prisoners are counted as residents of Senate District 27.  This reduces every other Senate district in RI only 87% as powerful as the padded district.  D 27 is currently over by 444 residents, and would be ceding some ground… but it should be ceding 4000 people, and the neighborhoods they hail from.

And finally, there is Cranston City Ward 6, which is nearly 25% prisoners.  This means that for every three people in line to speak with the Ward 6 Councilor, there are four in line to see the others.  Each one with a demand.

For a conversation on the situation in RI, listen to this podcast between myself and Peter Wagner.

Its not a Democrat/Republican thing, its a “One Man, One Vote” thing.  And if you’re not into that, it says a bit about your feelings on the U.S. Constitution and the canon of law.


by Aleks Kajstura, March 29, 2011

More potential for prison-based gerrymandering problems was found in local governments across Wisconsin; fact sheets are now available for Crawford County and the cities of Appleton, Kenosha, New Lisbon, Prairie du Chien, Portage, Racine, Stanley and Waukesha.

The cities of Stanley and New Lisbon are both facing the prospect of having an Aldermanic ward with no actual residents. This problem is created because the population of the prisons located in the cities is larger than any one of their wards. Our Wisconsin campaign page has more background on prison-based gerrymandering issues in Wisconsin and a complete list of fact sheets available for the state.


by Aleks Kajstura, March 25, 2011

On Monday (March 21), state and national leaders testified before the Connecticut General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Judiciary at a hearing on HB6606, An Act Concerning the Determination of the Residence of Incarcerated Persons for Purposes of Legislative Redistricting.

Rep. Stallworth, right, with Dale Ho of the NAACP LDF. Photo: Only in Bridgeport

Rep. Charlie L. Stallworth (D-126th Assembly District – Bridgeport) testified about the impact of disproportionate representation has on Bridgeport and other similar communities in Connecticut. Rep. Stallworth notes that when inmates and their families seek support, they reach out to their home communities’ legislators.

The New Haven Register also noted the inconsistency the current redistricting practices have with the way that representatives are actually elected:

In Connecticut, incarcerated felons lose the right to vote but individuals may continue to vote by absentee ballot if they are detained prior to a trial because they have not posted bail or if they have been convicted of a misdemeanor.

Their vote is counted in their home town elections.

Susan Pease, Dean of Arts and Sciences at Central Connecticut State University and a Board Member of Common Cause in Connecticut brought the Committee’s attention to the state’s commitment to equality:

“The history of the Connecticut legislature is, as can be seen in the exhibits out in the hall, the history of striving towards more and more equality in representation…. The benefits were obvious and profound. Immediately, the Connecticut Legislature began to be more responsive to the needs of the state….”

Dale Ho, assistant counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, summarized:

“Each Connecticut resident should be represented equally in the political process, and the power of their voice should not depend upon whether they live near a prison.”

Even legislators with large prisons in their districts saw the inequity of the situation described to them over the course of the day. The CT Mirror reported:

Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, the ranking Republican on the committee, seemed to listen more closely than other legislators. His 7th Senatorial District includes a half-dozen prisons in Enfield, Suffield and Somers.

Kissel said about 8,000 residents of the district are inmates….

Kissel said he is considering supporting legislation that would count the prisoners in the towns where they came from.

“My gut tells me it has some merit,” he said.

Full text of these and other submitted written testimonies is available on our Connecticut campaign page.


by Peter Wagner, March 25, 2011

We’ve long argued that the Census Bureau’s prison miscount is about political power, not funding.

An interesting anecdote from Michigan makes the point about how small the financial impact is:

Prior to the 2000 Census, in a 1998 an agreement with Coldwater Township, the city annexed the three Michigan Department of Corrections facilities adjacent to its north boundary. This allowed Coldwater additional revenue sharing funds from the state and some eligibility for more federal funds.

Then, in the fall of 2000, the city’s firefighters union and its supporters pushed and passed a city charter amendment, which requires 1.5 firemen per 1,000 population. With state prison inmates counted in the population, it would have required the city to hire three new fire fighters.

According to then city manager Bill Stewart, Coldwater had received only $29,000 in 1999 from the state for municipal services while new firefighters would cost approximately $56,000 more a year.
So on Nov. 27, the city council voted to “detached” the prisons, and Coldwater Township later passed the same resolution dropping the population by 2,286 prisoners.

The gain to Coldwater City was $12.68 per incarcerated person per year. When all the city had to do was move the border to get the money, it was worth doing. But it’s not a lot of money, and as the article shows, other costs made the annexation unwise.

The real negative impact of the prisons would be on democracy in Branch County, but the county, like most similar counties in Michigan, refuses to use the prison populations when drawing local government districts.

Now if only the Michigan legislature would follow the lead of Maryland, Delaware, New York and their own rural counties and address prison-based gerrymandering in their districts….

See also:


by Peter Wagner, March 24, 2011

The Chairman of the Alaska Republican Party has called on the state to end prison-based gerrymandering:

Randy Ruedrich, chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, addressed the board via telephone, asking that the board assign Alaskan prisoners incarcerated within and outside of Alaska to their home addresses for the purpose of building new legislative districts.

Ruedrich noted in a letter to John Torgerson, board chairman, that the Census Bureau had made a decision to provide prison population data to states for the redrawing of 2011 legislative boundaries.

“This data will allow the board to work with census data that places each Alaskan prisoner in his or her home instead of their prison location for drawing new legislative districts,” Ruedrich said. “This should also increase the state population, since the out of state prison populations will be similarly assigned to their respective home addresses.”

Native policy board, others, will keep close eye on redistricting, by Margaret Bauman, Bristol Bay Times, March 16, 2011

The effort, before the Republican-dominated Redistricting Board, has so far been unsuccessful:

The board spent much of Wednesday afternoon discussing and setting the meeting schedule. But it also took up a request by Ruedrich to reallocate the prison population to their residence addresses. Now inmates are counted in the district in which they are incarcerated.

Ruedrich told the board there is a disproportionate number of Alaska Native prisoners in the system — 35 percent compared to a Native population generally of 15 percent. He suggested many of those people are from rural Alaska so counting them in their home towns and villages would help fill out lagging numbers in rural districts.

The board didn’t act on the request and said it would be too difficult in such a short time to get the residence addresses for thousands of inmates and try to work them into the appropriate district. The board’s attorney, Michael White, also wondered whether it was legal for the board to do it or if a change had to come through the Legislature.

Alaska redistricting board gets to work, by Patti Epler, Alaska Dispatch March 16, 2011

Meet us

  • December 7-9, 2014:
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Events

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    Peter Wagner will be in Washington D.C. for meetings about prison gerrymandering and other issues. If you’d like to meet while Peter is in town, please contact us.

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