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More Massachusetts voices call for Census Bureau to solve prison gerrymandering problem

by Aleks Kajstura, November 15, 2013

There are several ways to end prison gerrymandering in Massachusetts towns, as I explained in my recent report. But while my recommendations included action by the towns and the state, local coverage of the issue specifically highlighted the need for a national solution from the Census Bureau.

Maureen Turner’s news brief in this week’s Valley Advocate introduces the wide-ranging impact of prison gerrymandering in Massachusetts:

“Much of the research on prison-based gerrymandering shows that the problem tends to hurt urban communities, from which a disproportionate percentage of prisoners come, and help communities in rural areas, where correctional facilities are more likely to be located…. The new PPI report, however, shows that adverse effects can also be felt by host communities…”

And as I wrote in my recent MetroWest oped, “my interviews with state and local government officials revealed that the towns did not intentionally engage in prison gerrymandering. For most of these Massachusetts towns, the Census Bureau’s prison miscount just wasn’t on the radar at redistricting time.”

That’s because reprecincting is a tough job for some of these towns. Frank Mand reported that the Plymouth Town Clerk, Laurence Pizer, likened reprecincting to “putting together a puzzle made up of 3,300 white pieces.” The article explained that:

“[w]hen municipalities have to draw new lines and/or create new precincts… they do the best they can… and [t]he primary effort is not to make things worse.”

Pizer concluded that “[r]eal solutions to [prison gerrymandering] would have to come from the state and federal level.”

Maureen Turner at the Valley Advocate reached the same conclusion:

“the most comprehensive solution would come from the Census Bureau, which could change its policy on where it counts incarcerated people rather than leave individual states or local governments to make their own adjustments.”

The Chairs of Massachusetts’s Redistricting Committee similarly concluded that “the way prisoners are currently counted does a disservice to the state and should be changed,” recommending that the state pass a resolution calling on the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people at their home address at the next census.
That resolution is currently pending before the state legislature.

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