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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August 31, 2011

Prison Policy Initiative and Demos Applaud Passage Of Prison Redistricting Legislation By California Senate, Call On State Assembly To Pass Law And Correct Unjust Census Figures

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Peter Wagner, , (413) 527-0845,
Anna Pycior, apycior@demos.org, (212) 389-1408

Demos and the Prison Policy Initiative, two national public policy organizations, applaud the California Senate for passage yesterday of AB 420, a bill to end prison-based gerrymandering. Introduced by Assemblymember Mike Davis, the legislation would end the practice of treating incarcerated individuals as residents of the districts where they are temporarily confined, for redistricting purposes.

This legislation directs the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to report the last known addresses of incarcerated persons to the Secretary of State and the Citizens Redistricting Commission. The data will then be used to count incarcerated individuals as members of their home communities. If passed again by the California Assembly, the new rule would go into effect in the 2020 redistricting cycle.

We applaud the California Senate for recognizing that it is a violation of California state law to continue the state’s practice of counting incarcerated individuals as residents of their prison localities for redistricting purposes,” said Brenda Wright, Democracy Program Director at Demos. “According to the California Election Code, ‘A person does not gain or lose a domicile solely by reason of his or her presence or absence from a place while… kept in an almshouse, asylum or prison,’” Wright added.

Continue reading →


by Leah Sakala, August 31, 2011

A recent Danville News article reports that the residents of Kelly township, Pennsylvania may be forced to shoulder an unfair burden.

Pennsylvania’s Act 101 of 1988 mandates a curbside recycling system for any municipality with a population of 5,000 or more and a population density of 300 people per square mile, or with a total population of more than 10,000. With only 3,717 residents living in the Kelly community, one would imagine that Kelly would be exempt from the expensive requirement.

But official U.S. Census Bureau figures report that Kelly has nearly 5,500 people.

Where can all those extra “residents” be found? Behind bars in the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. Not only might it be inefficient to institute a curbside system for the relatively small population of Kelly, but the township wouldn’t be allowed to collect recycling from the penitentiary even if they wanted to—the prison’s recycling system is run entirely by the federal government.

The article reports that the Pennsylvania law doesn’t include a provision that would allow municipalities like Kelly to avoid the requirement. Darwin Swope, Legislative Aide to Rep. Fred Keller (R-Kreamer), believes that the lack of flexibility in the recycling provision likely has a wider effect, saying, “I’m sure Kelly is not the only municipality in the state encountering this problem.”

Turns out, he’s exactly right.

We’ve identified two other Pennsylvania municipalities where the prison population requires them to create a recycling program they otherwise would not be required to start: Newport township and, as of the 2010 Census, Somerset township. Newport’s official population is inflated by the number of people incarcerated SCI Retreat, and the people incarcerated in SCI Somerset and SCI Laurel Highlands are all added to Somerset’s real population [1].

The Pennsylvania recycling statute was clearly designed to only take effect in communities of sufficient size and density where it makes economic and practical sense to mandate curbside recycling. Surely the statute’s drafters did not intend for it to apply to small municipalities that include large prisons with their own separate recycling systems. This unintended effect is just one more example of the consequences of counting incarcerated people in communities to which they do not belong.


[1] The fact that Somerset township only recently made our list may be surprising to the people who track prison expansion in Pennsylvania because the prisons there aren’t new. Even though two large prisons were located within Somerset’s boundaries during the last redistricting cycle in 2000, the total population reported by the Census was under 10,000 and the density was less than 300 people/square mile, and so the municipality was exempt from the requirement. Somerset would have had to comply with the curbside recycling mandate in 2000, however, had the Census Bureau not mistakenly counted the larger of the two prisons, SCI Somerset, in a different municipality.


by Leah Sakala, August 24, 2011

Yesterday, Dale Ho, Assistant Counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), testified about the issue of prison-based gerrymandering before the Kentucky General Assembly’s Task Force on Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs.

In his compelling testimony, Mr. Ho explained that prison-based gerrymandering distorts the allocation of political representation in Kentucky on both the county and the state level, pointing in particular to House Districts 59 and 77, where 8.1% and 5.6%, respectively, of the so-called “residents” are are behind bars. He also pointed out that both Kentucky state law and court rulings on the state and federal level unambiguously say that incarcerated people are not legal residents of the facility in which they are imprisoned.

Mr. Ho explained to the legislature that prison-based gerrymandering often has the effect of painting a false picture of racial demographics, illustrating this point with the example of Morgan County, where only 18 of the 611 African American county “residents” counted by the Census Bureau in 2000 were not incarcerated.

One Kentucky county, Boyle County, refused to engage in prison-based gerrymandering after the 2000 Census by excluding the prison population for redistricting purposes. Mr. Ho urged Kentucky to follow Boyle County’s lead and develop a state-wide plan to end prison-based gerrymandering.

For further coverage of Mr. Ho’s testimony, see this morning’s Richmond Register article.


by Leah Sakala, August 23, 2011

This morning the Los Angeles Daily News published a great op-ed by Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative, and Dale Ho, assistant counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, in support of California’s Assembly Bill 420 to end prison-based gerrymandering.

After providing a detailed overview about how prison-based gerrymandering distorts our democracy and “makes a mockery of the ‘one person, one vote’ principle,” the authors explain that the California Senate should pass AB 420 to make sure that prison-based gerrymandering doesn’t mar California redistricting next time around:

It is too late to solve this problem during the current redistricting cycle, which requires that new maps be finalized shortly. But legislation is currently headed to the State Senate floor that would make sure that prison-based gerrymandering does not continue to distort our democratic process during future redistricting cycles: Assembly Bill 420, sponsored by Assemblymember Mike Davis, which calls on the Citizens Redistricting Commission to allocate incarcerated individuals to their home communities during future redistricting cycles.

This legislation will not affect funding for federal or state programs; it simply seeks to ensure that our legislators each represent the same number of constituents, so that everyone is represented equally in the political process.

Corrective legislation in California, the nation’s largest and arguably most important state, would not only solve this problem here, it could pave the road for nationwide change. The Senate should pass AB 420, and take a stand for basic principles of fairness and equality in the redistricting process.

The California Senate is scheduled to vote on AB 420 this week.


by Leah Sakala, August 22, 2011

BlogforArizona.com blogger “AzBlueMeanie” has recently written a series of posts about the problem of prison-based gerrymandering in Arizona. Not only are the posts excellent, but they are also timely, as the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC) is currently holding a series of public hearings to get feedback before drawing state redistricting maps in the near future.

  • In the first post, AzBlueMeanie gives a general overview of why prison-based gerrymandering is a problem for Arizona’s democracy, using our materials to illustrate the issue.
  • In the second post, AzBlueMeanie urges readers to raise the issue of prison-based gerrymandering at the Redistricting Commission’s public hearings, pointing to our Arizona page as a resource for supporting documents.
  • Finally, AzBlueMeanie’s third post makes the great recommendation that Arizona citizens ask the Redistricting Commission to specifically identify incarcerated populations in the draft maps that they release to the public:

    The key to your testimony at Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC) public hearings is to request that the AIRC flag these census tract/blocks for prisons in their reports and identify incarcerated populations on the draft district maps under discussion so that they are readily identifiable to the public. This will facilitate knowledgeable public discussion, and will build a public record for Department of Justice Voting Rights Section preclearance of district maps, and a public record for any potential litigation.

AzBlueMeanie could not be more right.

Redistricting maps are hard to parse and analyze without detailed—and useful—summary data to accompany them. Accordingly, most redistricting committees produce summary tables with key demographics for each mapped district: race, ethnicity, voting age population, etc. In Arizona, a healthy discussion about proposed districts needs to include information about the number of people incarcerated in each district.

The Redistricting Commission isn’t, this decade at least, going to follow New York or Maryland and count incarcerated people at home. But, with some careful planning, they can minimize the effects of prison-based gerrymandering right now.

The Census Bureau is now making it easy for redistricting technicians to know which populations in their data are in fact incarcerated. But empowering the Arizona public to give meaningful feedback on the draft maps remains the job of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. True, residents of Arizona could hire demographers to perform analyses of draft maps to evaluate the extent of prison-based gerrymandering, but this is data that the Commission should already have at its fingertips. The public should take AzBlueMeanie’s advice and urge the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission to include data on the number of incarcerated people in their demographic summaries of each draft district.


August 19, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 19, 2011

Contact:
Brennan Center for Justice Andrew Goldston (646) 292-8372 andrew.goldston@nyu.edu
Center for Law & Social Justice April Silver (718) 756-8501 pr@akilaworksongs.com
Demos Anna Pycior (212) 389-1408 apycior@demos.org
LatinoJustice John Garcia (212) 739-7513 jgarcia@latinojustice.org
NAACP-LDF Melquiades Gagarin (212) 965-2783 mgagarin@naacpldf.org
NYCLU Michael Cummings (212) 607-3300 x363 mcummings@nyclu.org
Prison Policy Initiative Peter Wagner (413) 527-0845

Albany, NY – Attorneys for the fifteen voters from around New York State who have joined the legal defense of New York’s law ending prison-based gerrymandering today filed papers asking New York Supreme Court Judge Eugene Devine to grant their motion for summary judgment and uphold the law. Their filing lays out why the judge should uphold the law and why a similar request from the Senators with large prisons in their districts should be denied. The case is Little v. LATFOR. The organizations representing these voters in court are the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Law and Social Justice, Dēmos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Prison Policy Initiative..

On Aug. 4, Judge Devine granted the fifteen voters from across New York State permission to intervene in the lawsuit and join in the defense of the law. The original named defendants in the lawsuit are government bodies charged with carrying out the new law: the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), and the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). The New York State Attorney General’s office is representing DOCCS.

The new law, known as “Part XX,” requires that incarcerated persons be allocated to their home communities for redistricting and reapportionment. This tracks with the New York State Constitution’s explicit provision that incarceration does not change one’s residence. Part XX applies to state and local legislative redistricting, and would not affect federal funding distributions.

New York State Senator Elizabeth Little and a group of co-plaintiffs are seeking to restore the old policy, which inflated the voting weight of a few communities at the expense of all others by allocating incarcerated persons to the districts where prisons are located, rather than to their home addresses.

Related Issues

Separate from the lawsuit, on August 4, the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment announced that it would it would comply with the law. This is a dramatic change for LATFOR, whose co-chair, Senator Nozzolio, represents a district that includes several large prisons. LATFOR had previously been implying that it was not going to implement the law.

This pledge to follow the law came after a flurry of public criticism prompted by the seven civil rights organizations representing the intervenors. On July 27, the seven civil rights organizations representing the intervenors wrote to LATFOR, explaining that LATFOR must comply with the law. LATFOR had also received intense criticism from editorial boards around the state, including the Albany Times Union , the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle and the New York Times.

Public opinion is clearly against prison-based gerrymandering. A Quinnipiac University poll released last week reported that a majority of New York State voters say “that prison inmates should be counted as residents of their home districts, not of where they’re imprisoned.” The poll found that majorities of voters from both parties, and majorities of both upstate and downstate voters, favored “counting inmates in their homes, not their prisons.”

Continue reading →


by Leah Sakala, August 18, 2011

I just came across a great interview on Capital Tonight with Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn).

In this interview, Assemblyman Jeffries talks in detail about New York’s 2010 law that ended prison-based gerrymandering, explaining how it was passed and why it’s critical for New York’s democracy. He states that the law, “rectified one of the most significant civil rights wrongs that had been taking place in the state of New York,” and criticized the group of legislators who are seeking to overturn it in court with Little v. LATFOR.

I was particularly struck by Assemblyman Jeffries’ observation that in any significant legislative victory for fairness and equality, the implementation stage can be the most difficult to navigate. He points to the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision as a historic illustration of the need to move forward with “deliberate speed” in enacting policy that affirms civil rights.

Although the Little v. LATFOR lawsuit presents a potential challenge to the law, civil rights advocates are making steady progress towards ensuring that prison-based gerrymandering stays out of New York. The Prison Policy Initiative and six other civil rights organizations will represent the fifteen New York voters who were recently admitted to the lawsuit in order to protect their votes from being distorted by a return to prison-based gerrymandering. Meanwhile, the the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) is moving forward with the redistricting process in accordance with the law, reapportioning incarcerated individuals to their home addresses for the purposes of redistricting.

The bottom line is that the New York law ending prison-based gerrymandering is, as Assemblyman Jeffries explains, “a sound law, both constitutionally, from the perspective of the manner in which it was done, as well as substantively in terms of rectifying a clear injustice.”


by Peter Wagner, August 17, 2011

A Quinnipiac University poll released last week reported that New York State

voters say 60 – 25 percent that prison inmates should be counted as residents of their home districts, not of where they’re imprisoned. Republican and upstate voters support counting inmates in their homes, not their prisons.

The poll was conducted from August 3 – 8, with 1,640 registered voters. The margin of error was +/- 2.4 percentage points.

On August 4, New York’s redistricting task force announced — finally — that it would comply with state law and count incarcerated people at their home addresses. Nine state senators, however, are still suing to overturn the law.


by Leah Sakala, August 15, 2011

The month of August has brought some exciting victories for the movement to keep prison-based gerrymandering out of New York. To summarize our recent progress, here’s a roundup of selected news coverage:

Advance #1: After expressing reluctance to comply with New York’s 2010 law that ended prison-based gerrymandering, the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) definitively announced on August 4th that it will fully comply with the law by adjusting Census Bureau population data to count incarcerated individuals at their home addresses.

  • The Albany Times Union‘s coverage reported that, “One cloud has been lifted from the state’s legislative redistricting process,” explaining how LATFOR’s announcement followed pressure from civil rights advocates and legislators to count incarcerated populations in the right place.

  • A Capitol Confidential article quotes LATFOR co-chair Sen. Mike Nozzolio as saying that, “This is a bi-partisan position that the law will be complied with.”

  • The Albany Times Union and the Canandaigua Messenger Post have both run editorials praising LATFOR’s statement that it intends to follow the law. The Times Union declared,

    LATFOR has done the right thing and agreed to stop the travesty of counting prisons inmates in the districts where they’re incarcerated, rather than where they otherwise would live.

  • A Gannett story reported that those glad to hear LATFOR’s announcement included civil rights advocates, legislators, and even Governor Cuomo himself:

    Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that he didn’t “think it was right or fair” to count prisoners where they are incarcerated and said he stands behind the law, which was signed before he took office.

  • WYNC’s The Empire and the Legislative Gazette published detailed reports on LATFOR’s announcement. The Gotham Gazette‘s recent coverage provides a helpful overview of New York’s redistricting process.

Advance #2: On August 4th, New York Supreme Court Judge Eugene Divine granted fifteen urban and rural voters from across New York State permission to intervene in Little v. LATFOR, a lawsuit challenging the New York’s law that ended prison-based gerrymandering. The Prison Policy Initiative, along with six other top civil rights organizations, will represent the fifteen voters in court.

  • The Albany Times Union‘s article explains that the judge admitted the voters into the lawsuit because they have a “genuine stake” in protecting their voting interests.

  • Thomson Reuters reported:

    The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, one of the groups representing the intervenors, welcomed the decision to allow the individuals to intervene.

    “We want to make sure that this law is adequately defended by people who have a stake in the matter and care to ensure that New Yorkers’ voting rights aren’t unfairly distorted,” said Wendy Weiser, a lawyer with the center.

Stay tuned for more New York updates as both LATFOR’s redistricting process and the Little v. LATFOR lawsuit proceed.


August 11, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE August 11, 2011

Contact:
Brennan Center for Justice Andrew Goldston (646) 292-8372 andrew.goldston@nyu.edu
Center for Law & Social Justice April Silver (718) 756-8501 pr@akilaworksongs.com
Demos Lauren Strayer (212) 633-1413 lstrayer@demos.org
LatinoJustice John Garcia (212) 739-7513 jgarcia@latinojustice.org
NAACP-LDF Melquiades Gagarin (212) 965-2783 mgagarin@naacpldf.org
NYCLU Michael Cummings (212) 607-3300 x363 mcummings@nyclu.org
Prison Policy Initiative Peter Wagner (413) 527-0845

Albany, NY – A New York Supreme Court judge has cleared the way for civil rights organizations representing fifteen voters from across New York State to join the Attorney General in defending New York’s law ending “prison-based gerrymandering,” a practice that had distorted representation across New York State.

Judge Eugene Devine on Aug. 4 granted fifteen urban and rural voters from across New York State permission to intervene in Little v. LATFOR, a lawsuit challenging the law. The organizations representing these voters in court are the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Law & Social Justice, Dēmos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Prison Policy Initiative. These groups are also representing three organizations that Judge Devine declined to grant intervenor status.

The new law, known as “Part XX,” requires that incarcerated persons be allocated to their home communities for redistricting and reapportionment. This tracks with the New York State Constitution’s explicit provision that incarceration does not change one’s residence. The legislation applies to state and local legislative redistricting, and would not affect federal funding distributions.

New York State Senator Elizabeth Little and a group of co-plaintiffs are seeking to restore the old policy, which inflated the voting weight of a few communities at the expense of many others by allocating incarcerated persons to the districts where prisons were located, rather than to their home addresses. This group benefitted from the prior policy.

The intervenor-defendants allowed in by Judge Devine’s decision will represent the interests of voters from across the state. The original named defendants in the lawsuit are government bodies charged with carrying out the new law: the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, known as LATFOR, and the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. By permitting the intervenor-defendants to join the suit, Judge Devine is allowing the interests of voters who will be disenfranchised by prison-based gerrymandering statewide to be represented in court as the case proceeds.

Continue reading →

Meet us

  • December 7-9, 2014:
    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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Events

  • December 7-9, 2014:
    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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