Prison-based gerrymandering in The American Prospect

by Leah Sakala, October 23, 2012  

Nancy Scola makes a compelling case for prioritizing prison-based gerrymandering on the national agenda in her new American Prospect piece, “Making Prisoners Count.” She writes:

In an era obsessed with political data—Microtargeting! Swing-state polling! Data.gov!—and in a country where we incarcerate people at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world, thinking through the political counting of prisoners calls for the same enthusiasm, because the way we do it now corrupts the very equations upon which representative democracy is built.

Nancy goes on to explain how the Census Bureau’s practice of counting incarcerated people at prison locations unfairly boosts representation in communities with prisons, drains political power from communities that experience disproportionate incarceration rates, and creates perverse criminal justice policy incentives by giving elected officials a vested interest in expanding the prison industrial complex.

She concludes by observing that this issue is more pressing now than ever:

How the U.S. counts its prisoners might be a historical data quirk, but with the U.S. prison population now counted by the millions, it’s a quirk that skews how representative democracy operates.

Wondering how the Census Bureau’s prison count skews your vote? Check out our research results about your state or local government. Then take action and join us in solving the problem.

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