by Leah Sakala,
November 28, 2011
Executive Director Peter Wagner works from his hotel room in Anamosa Iowa, featured in the article.
The Public Welfare Foundation’s 2010 Annual Report includes a great article about why abolishing prison-based gerrymandering is a critical step towards a fairer democracy.
The Public Welfare Foundation has provided crucial support to our work to end prison-based gerrymandering. We are grateful for the Foundation’s generous support, and proud of the progress we’ve made:
[The Prison Policy Initiative’s] efforts led to some ground-breaking legislative changes in 2010 as Maryland became the first state to enact a law—called the No Representation Without Population Act—ensuring that incarcerated people will be counted at their home addresses when new state and local legislative districts are drawn in response to the 2010 Census.
Delaware and New York passed similar laws, although some upstate New York legislators are challenging that state’s law in court.
The Census Bureau is taking notice. Shortly before the 2010 Census, the Bureau responded to public pressure and announced that it would publish a special file with the prison counts.
by Leah Sakala,
November 21, 2011
New Yorkers have had enough of the legislature’s stalling to fully implement last year’s law that ended prison-based gerrymandering in New York. Last week, six New York voters filed a lawsuit against the state for failing to move forward with the redistricting process, arguing that a federal judge should take over.
In the suit, Favors v. Cuomo, the plaintiffs point out that one of the biggest obstacles to completing fair redistricting in New York is the Legislative Task Force on Redistricting and Reapportionment’s (LATFOR) failure to produce and release redistricting data in which incarcerated people are reallocated to their home addresses. Not only does state law require LATFOR to produce this data, but the reallocation is a critical step to ensuring that New York redistricting is consistent with the constitutional principle of “one person, one vote.”
But LATFOR already has the home address data provided by the Department of Correctional Services, and the Task Force has publicly agreed that it will fully comply with the reallocation law. And the clock is ticking—redistricting needs to be completed in enough time to prepare for the 2012 primary.
So whats the problem? The Task Force members say that they can’t agree on which reallocation software to use. It’s that simple.
It is impossible for anyone, legislator and concerned citizen alike, to have a meaningful conversation about specific redistricting proposals without first having the underlying redistricting data that LATFOR is responsible for providing. Furthermore, many county and municipal governments are currently undergoing redistricting in order to meet their own redistricting deadlines, and LATFOR’s inaction is denying these local governments the option to draw their districts based on the reallocated data. It’s unfortunate that LATFOR’s internal “legislative stalemate” is posing such a threat to the wellbeing of New York’s political landscape for the next decade.
November 18, 2011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE November 18, 2011:
|Meredith Curtis, ACLU of Maryland
|Peter Wagner, Prison Policy Initative
|Anna Pycior, Dēmos
|Gerald Stansbury, Maryland NAACP
|Kirkland Hall, Somerset NAACP
BALTIMORE, MD — Today, a coalition of civil rights groups, including the Prison Policy Initiative, Dēmos, ACLU of Maryland, Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, Somerset County Branch of the NAACP, and others announced that they are preparing an amicus brief to defend the “No Representation Without Population Act” currently being challenged before a federal court in Fletcher v. Lamone, a lawsuit challenging Maryland’s Congressional redistricting plan. The brief will make clear that Maryland’s first-in-the-nation law requiring the state to count prisoners at their home addresses is protective of minority voting rights, and will decry the plaintiffs’ attempt to bring back the old system of using disenfranchised – and disproportionately African-American – prison populations to pad white electoral districts.
The plaintiffs in Fletcher raise seven civil rights and partisan gerrymandering claims. The civil rights groups preparing the amicus brief will urge the court to dismiss the three claims challenging application of the “No Representation Without Population Act.”
Passed and signed into law in 2010, the “No Representation Without Population Act” is civil rights reform that requires that state prisoners be counted in their home districts, not where they are incarcerated. It corrects discriminatory vote enhancement and ensures fair representation in legislative redistricting following the latest U.S. Census.
The “No Representation Without Population Act” corrects an unfair enhancement of voting power that a district with a prison receives by diluting the voting power of any district without a prison. The law’s impact has already been felt across the state. Before the law, one Maryland state legislative district’s population was 18 percent prisoners. As a result, four voting residents in this district had as much political influence as five residents elsewhere, because prisoners could not vote. The impact at the local level is even more pronounced. In Somerset County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, 64 percent of the population in one Commission district was made up of prisoners. This meant a vote in that district was worth 2.8 times more than a vote in neighboring districts.
The distortion of the election system through inclusion of non-voting prisoners has been a longstanding civil rights problem in Maryland, and its effects can be clearly seen in Somerset County. There, over the course of decades, inclusion of prison in a majority-minority district meant that despite the County’s 42 percent African American population, no black official was ever elected until after the No Representation Without Population Act was passed.
Brenda Wright, Director of the Democracy Program at Demos, said: “The No Representation Without Population Act was designed to end distortions caused by counting incarcerated persons as members of communities to which they have no connection. Counting incarcerated persons at their home residence allows Maryland to draw accurate districts in line with the principle of one person one vote.”
Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland, said: “By enacting this vital civil rights law, Maryland took a giant step toward correcting unfair vote enhancement, and making fair representation possible in legislative redistricting. Democracy now has more meaning in Maryland, especially in a place like Somerset County, where African American voters may finally be heard in proportion to their numbers in the community.”
The No Representation Without Population Act is an important tool to solving these problems, and restoring the idea of “one person, one vote” to Maryland.
Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative, and co-author of Importing Constituents: Incarcerated People and Political Clout in Maryland, said: “The State of Maryland should be saluted — not sued — for counting incarcerated people in the correct location.”
Continue reading →
by Leah Sakala,
November 18, 2011
Tomorrow marks the formal launching of the Center for Church and Prison, a faith-based research organization dedicated to reducing incarceration and recidivism. The inaugural event in Cambridge, Massachusetts will feature music and theater, and honorees at the event will include PPI’s Executive Director, Peter Wagner.
The Center for Church and Prison has been instrumental in working to remedy the problem of prison-based gerrymandering in Massachusetts. For example, the Center organized “Black Community Losing Power: Counting Inmates In the Wrong Place,” a highly successful public forum and panel discussion about prison-based gerrymandering.
We’re looking forward to celebrating with the Center for Church and Prison at tomorrow’s event, and hope to see you there if you’ll be in the New England area! Please check out the event website for tickets and more information