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Press Release archives

September 21, 2016

The following statement was issued today by representatives of the ACLU of Rhode Island, Demos, the Prison Policy Initiative and the ACLU:

"Today, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the First Circuit overturned a ruling issued earlier this year by U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux, who had held that the City of Cranston violated the one person, one vote requirements of the U.S. Constitution when it allocated the entire incarcerated population of the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) as 'residents' of one ward of the City when it drew district lines for the City Council and School Committee following the 2010 Census and thereby created significant distortions in local representation. A panel of the First Circuit instead ruled that a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling dictated a different outcome.

"We respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the First Circuit's ruling. We believe the panel misinterpreted the Supreme Court's recent Evenwel v. Abbott case as vindicating the City's position when it did no such thing. As a result of that misinterpretation, the panel opinion fails to adequately address the critical 'one person, one vote' implications of Cranston's use of prison gerrymandering to overinflate the representation of constituents in the school committee and city council districts where the ACI is located. As a result, we will strongly be considering filing a petition for rehearing of the case before the entire First Circuit.

"To this day, we have heard no logical basis for the City's decision to count the entire ACI population as residing in a single City ward even though people incarcerated there who are able to vote generally are barred from voting there according to state law. In addition to the constitutional concerns, the City's choice is not rational. The prison population is wholly physically and politically isolated from the surrounding community, and local elected officials do not represent those incarcerated at the ACI in any meaningful way. This provides yet another reason for us to consider seeking an en banc rehearing, as well as for the City Council itself to fix this issue for elections in future years, as it had started to do before this appeal was filed.

"During this campaign season, serious concerns and questions about electoral fairness are being raised and felt across the country. Like those disputes, this case goes to the heart of the importance of fair representation, something that Cranston's current system simply does not provide."

Background on the Lawsuit

At issue in the lawsuit was the City of Cranston's choice to count the more than three thousand inmates at the ACI in a single city ward for the purposes of drawing City Council and School Committee districts. Judge Lagueux had agreed with the ACLU and other plaintiffs that this "prison gerrymandering" was improper because those incarcerated at the ACI are not actual constituents of local elected officials, but instead remain residents of their pre-incarceration communities for virtually all legal purposes, including voting. Due to the questionable counting, all persons incarcerated by the state of Rhode Island are used to account for 25 percent of Ward 6's total "population." According to Census Bureau data, without the non-resident incarcerated population, Ward 6 has only 10,227 true constituents. Yet those constituents now wield the same political power as the roughly 13,500 constituents in each of the other wards.

The case is Davidson et. al. v. City of Cranston. Today's decision and others documents in the case be found here.

Plaintiffs in the case were represented by attorneys with Demos, the Prison Policy Initiative, the ACLU and the ACLU of Rhode Island.

June 30, 2016

UPDATE: Comment deadline extended to September 1.
The Census Bureau has extended the deadline to submit comments to September 1, 2016, explaining: “Because of the scope of the proposed criteria, and in response to individuals and organizations who have requested more time to review the proposed criteria, the Census Bureau has decided to extend the comment period for an additional 31 days.”

Advocates should make their voices heard to demand a more accurate count

Prison Policy Initiative and Demos logos

Today, the U.S. Census Bureau released its proposal on how to implement residence guidelines for the 2020 Census. Ignoring overwhelming public input supporting a change in how incarcerated persons are counted in the Census, the Bureau announced it is leaving in place the inaccurate and outdated practice of counting incarcerated persons as "residents" of the prison location instead of their home communities. Interested stakeholders have until August 1 to submit further comments before this proposal becomes final. In response to this development the Prison Policy Initiative and Demos released the following statement:

Our organizations, and hundreds of allies around the country, are profoundly disappointed by the Census Bureau proposal to again count nearly 2 million people in the wrong place on Census day. Continuing this outdated practice will ensure an inaccurate 2020 Census and another decade of prison gerrymandering.

Counting incarcerated people as if they were “residents” of the correctional facility makes the Census less accurate for everyone: rural and urban communities; incarcerated persons and their families; governmental authorities trying to draw accurate redistricting plans; researchers trying to understand the demographics of local communities.

Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative, said “The Census Bureau blatantly ignored the overwhelming consensus urging a change in the Census count for incarcerated persons. When the Bureau asked for public comment on its residence rules last year, 96% of the comments regarding residence rules for incarcerated persons urged the Bureau to count incarcerated persons at their home address, which is almost always their legal address. By proposing to once again count incarcerated people as if they were residents of correctional facilities, the Census Bureau has simply disregarded input from the public, redistricting experts, and legislators.”

Demos and the Prison Policy Initiative, along with many other civil rights and criminal justice advocates, have long urged the Bureau to update its rules on incarcerated persons. According to Brenda Wright, Vice President of Policy and Legal Strategies at Demos, “The Bureau’s proposed rules will perpetuate the distortion of democracy that results from padding the population counts of communities with prisons.”

“When state and local officials use the Census Bureau’s prison count data attributing ‘residence’ to the prison,” Wright continued, “they give extra representation to the communities that host the prisons and dilute the representation of everyone else. This is harmful to rural communities that contain large prisons, because it seriously distorts redistricting at the local level of county commissions, city councils, and school boards. It also harms urban communities by not crediting them with the incarcerated population whose legal residence never changed.”

The Census Bureau defines “usual residence” as the place where a person “eats and sleeps most of the time”, but fails to follow that rule when counting incarcerated people. The majority of people incarcerated in Rhode Island, for example, spend less than 100 days in the state’s correctional facilities. If the same people were instead spending 100 days in their summer residence, the Bureau would count them at their regular home address. The Census Bureau continues to carve out an unexplained exception for incarcerated people in order to count them in the wrong place.

The Bureau’s failure to update its rules regarding incarcerated persons is particularly misguided given that the Bureau decided that other populations – deployed overseas military, and juveniles staying in residential treatment centers – should be counted in their home location even if they are sleeping elsewhere on Census Day. It made these changes even though there were far fewer public comments identifying these issues as causing the magnitude of problems that the public commentary on the prison miscount highlighted.

Counting incarcerated people at the location of the facility reduces the accuracy of Census data about communities of color. For example, because African-Americans and Latinos are disproportionately incarcerated, counting incarcerated people in the wrong location is particularly bad for proper representation of African-American and Latino communities. “The Bureau’s counting method means that counties in upstate New York show up as wonderfully diverse in population – solely because there is a large prison in the county,” observed Wright. “It is truly disappointing that the Bureau has proposed to sacrifice the accuracy of the Census in a way that so clearly harms communities of color.”

The Bureau’s failure to update its residence rules is also creating legal problems because federal courts have started to recognize that the Bureau’s prison count can result in constitutional violations of one person, one vote requirements. There have already been successful Equal Protection challenges to prison gerrymandering in federal district courts in Jefferson County Florida and Cranston Rhode Island. The Bureau’s failure to change the way it counts incarcerated populations will ensure that these constitutional challenges continue into the coming decade.

The sole positive outcome in the Bureau’s proposal regarding incarcerated persons is to allow states to request individualized Census counts that reallocate incarcerated populations to their home addresses. This will make it somewhat easier for states to adopt their own legislation to count incarcerated persons in the right location. Four states (California, Delaware, Maryland and New York) have already adopted such reforms, and more should consider doing so now. Wagner pointed out that, “by making this option available, the Bureau is really acknowledging that its own counting rules do not work well for many states – a reality that should have prompted a full overhaul of the current rules on allocating incarcerated population. And people across the country will continue to be at the mercy of an ad hoc approach to equal representation.”

Stakeholders interested in a fair and accurate Census count in 2020 should make sure to submit comments to the Bureau by August 1 to explain why it must revise this proposal and count incarcerated persons at home in the 2020 Census.

May 24, 2016

City of Cranston, Rhode Island ordered to redraw district lines within 30 days

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Contact:
Steven Brown (ACLU of RI): 401 831-7171

Providence, RI. — In a precedent-setting ruling, U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux issued a decision today holding that the City of Cranston violated the one person, one vote requirements of the U.S. Constitution when it allocated the entire incarcerated population of the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) as “residents” of one ward of the City when it drew district lines for the City Council and School Committee following the 2010 Census. The ruling allows the City 30 days to present the Court with a new redistricting plan meeting constitutional requirements.

Today’s ruling, just the second of its kind in the nation, concluded that the City artificially inflated the population count of Ward 6, where the ACI is located, by treating all incarcerated persons as “residents” of the prison for redistricting purposes. Doing so, said the court, violates the rights of persons residing in other wards to equal representation as required by the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.

“I’m thrilled that our fight for equal representation has been successful,” said Karen Davidson, lead plaintiff. “Fairness in redistricting is a fundamental right and I’m glad that the court has vindicated our claims.”

At issue in the case was the City of Cranston’s choice to count the more than three thousand inmates at the ACI in a single city ward for the purposes of drawing City Council and School Committee districts. Plaintiffs argued this “prison gerrymandering” was improper because those incarcerated at the ACI are not true constituents of local elected officials, but instead remain residents of their pre-incarceration communities for virtually all legal purposes, including voting.

Judge Lagueux agreed with the plaintiffs’ claims, stating that “the ACI’s inmates lack a ‘representational nexus’ with the Cranston City Council and School Committee.” He noted that “Cranston’s elected officials do not campaign or endeavor to represent their ACI constituents,” and pointed out that that the majority of incarcerated persons cannot vote, and those who can are required by law to vote by absentee ballot from their pre-incarceration address.

Due to the questionable counting, persons at the only state-run correctional facility in Rhode Island account for 25% of Ward 6’s total “population.” According to Census Bureau data, without the incarcerated population, Ward 6 has only 10,209 true constituents. Yet those constituents now wield the same political power as the roughly 13,500 constituents in each of the other wards.

Cranston residents Karen Davidson, Debbie Flitman, Eugene Perry, and Sylvia Weber joined the ACLU of Rhode Island as plaintiffs in the case. They were represented in federal court by Demos, the Prison Policy Initiative, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Rhode Island.

“This is a big win for democracy,” said Adam Lioz of Demos, counsel for the plaintiffs. “Prison gerrymandering distorts representation and should no longer be tolerated. This decision should pave the way for other courts to address this long-standing problem.”

“We applaud the court’s decision requiring the City to correct its prison gerrymandering problem without delay,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “It is time for Cranston to stop holding elections under a one-person, three-quarters of a vote regime.”

“Counting people at the ACI as constituents of Ward 6 officials made no sense,” said Aleks Kajstura of the Prison Policy Initiative. “They can’t use the park or library, attend a City Council meeting, or send their kids to public schools. And, even those who can vote must do so from their actual legal residence, not the prison location.”

“This ruling means that Cranston can no longer play games with our democracy by artificially inflating the political power of one district over another. People who are incarcerated should be counted as residents of the districts where they lived, not as so-called ‘residents’ of where they are involuntarily confined,” said Sean Young, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

ACLU of RI volunteer attorney Lynette Labinger added: “The ACLU first urged the City to redraw its district lines four years ago in order to protect the rights of voters in the City’s five other wards. I am gratified that they should soon have their voices heard in equal measure with those in Ward 6.”

The case is Davidson et. al. v. City of Cranston. Plaintiffs’ complaint can be found here and their motion for summary judgment is here. Judge Lagueux’s ruling is here.

September 30, 2014

Dēmos and Prison Policy Initiative Applaud Senators Rosenberg, Chang-Diaz, and Dorcena Forry and Representatives Moran, Carvalho, and Rushing for Leadership to Protect One Person, One Vote Principle

On September 12 2014, the Massachusetts legislature sent the United States Census Bureau a resolution adopted by both chambers, calling on the Census Bureau to reform its outdated practice of enumerating incarcerated persons as "residents" of the prisons in which they are temporarily incarcerated. This practice leads state and local governments to violate the constitutional principle of one person, one vote by granting additional undue political clout to voters who live near prisons and diluting the votes cast by everyone else. As the resolution explains:

"Census data results in distortions of the one-person, one-vote principle in drawing electoral districts in Massachusetts, diluting the representation of the majority of districts that do not contain prisons."

Massachusetts’ resolution urges the Census Bureau to provide states with redistricting data that counts incarcerated persons at their residential address.

In response to these developments, Dēmos and the Prison Policy Initiative, non-partisan public policy organizations concerned about fair electoral representation, released the following statement:

"A prison is not a home," said Brenda Wright, Vice President for Legal Strategies at Dēmos. "Prison-based gerrymandering distorts democracy and fair representation in Massachusetts, and should not be tolerated in our state. Dēmos applauds the leadership of Senators Rosenberg, Chang-Diaz, and Dorcena Forry and Representatives Moran, Carvalho, and Rushing in achieving passage of the resolution urging the Census Bureau to count incarcerated persons in their home communities, where they are considered to reside for virtually all legal purposes."

Dēmos and the Prison Policy Initiative have long partnered in the goal of ending prison-based gerrymandering. "The national trend in state and local governments of rejecting prison gerrymandering sends a clear message to the Census Bureau that it’s time to update the residence rules," said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. "I’m proud of the Massachusetts Legislature’s steps to urge the Census Bureau to end prison gerrymandering nationwide 2020."

During the public hearings on redistricting in Massachusetts following the 2010 Census, Dēmos and PPI were among many groups and individuals urging the Massachusetts legislature to add its voice to those of other stakeholders calling for change in how the Census Bureau enumerates incarcerated persons.

The Special Joint Committee on Legislative Redistricting in Massachusetts took note of these concerns in its final report (downloads PDF), devoting about a quarter of the redistricting report to the vote dilution caused by the Census Bureau's decision to tabulate incarcerated people as residents of the prison, and suggesting this resolution as their first key recommendation.

Dēmos and PPI strongly applaud the Massachusetts legislature for its leadership in adopting this recommendation and calling for permanent, nation-wide reform of how incarcerated persons are tabulated in the Census. The Massachusetts Legislature’s resolution sends a strong message that Massachusetts residents, and all U.S. voters, deserve to have a fair say in elections. It’s time for the Census Bureau to do its part.

The full text of the resolution is:

WHEREAS, obtaining an accurate count of the population is so vital to representative democracy that the framers of the United States Constitution addressed the issue of the census and apportionment in the opening paragraphs of the Constitution; and

WHEREAS, the Massachusetts Constitution requires that federal census data be the basis for state redistricting; and

WHEREAS, the Census Bureau currently has a policy of counting incarcerated people at the address of the correctional institution, even though for other legal purposes their home address remains their legal residence; and

WHEREAS, this Census data results in distortions of the one-person, one-vote principle in drawing electoral districts in Massachusetts, diluting the representation of the majority of districts that do not contain prisons;

WHEREAS, the simplest solution to the conflict between federal constitutional requirements of "one person, one vote" and Massachusetts constitutional requirements of using the federal census is for the Census Bureau to publish redistricting data based on the location of an incarcerated person’s residence, not prison location; and

WHEREAS, the Census Bureau has already recognized the demand from states and counties for data that better reflects their actual populations, and has agreed to release data on prison populations to states in time for redistricting, enabling some states to individually adjust the population data used for redistricting; and

WHEREAS, Public Law 94-171 requires the Census Bureau to work with states to provide geographically relevant data and the Census Bureau has been responsive to state’s data needs for the past 3 decades; now therefore be it

RESOLVED, that the Massachusetts General Court hereby urges the Census Bureau, in the next Census and thereafter, to provide states with redistricting data that counts incarcerated persons at their residential address, rather than the address of the correctional institution where they are temporarily located; and be it further

RESOLVED, that a copy of these resolutions be transmitted forthwith by the Clerk of the Senate to the Director of Census Bureau.


####

September 8, 2014

Cranston, RI Lawsuit Will Move Forward

Providence, RI — Local Cranston residents and the ACLU of Rhode Island won a significant victory today in their fight for equal voting power in City elections when Judge Lagueux of the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island denied a motion to dismiss their one person, one vote lawsuit, allowing their case to move forward.

“I’m thrilled this case is going forward,” said Karen Davidson, lead plaintiff. “As a Cranston resident and taxpayer I’m entitled to equal representation and I will keep fighting for it.”

At issue in the case is the City of Cranston’s choice to count the more than three thousand inmates at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) in a single city ward for the purposes of drawing City Council and School Committee districts. Plaintiffs argue this “prison gerrymandering” is improper because those incarcerated at the ACI are not true constituents of local elected officials, but instead remain residents of their pre-incarceration communities for virtually all legal purposes, including voting.

Due to the questionable counting, persons at the only state-run correctional facility in Rhode Island account for 25% of Ward 6’s total “population.” According to Census Bureau data, without the incarcerated population, Ward 6 has only 10,209 true constituents. Yet those constituents now wield the same political power as the roughly 13,300 constituents in each of the other wards. The lawsuit claims that this dilutes the voting strength and political influence of citizens residing outside of Ward 6, in violation of the Equal Protection requirements of Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Judge Lagueux agreed that this is a viable legal claim, stating that “…the inclusion of the ACI prison population is not advancing the principle of electoral equality because the majority of prisoners…cannot vote, and those who can vote are required by State law to vote by absentee ballot from their pre-incarceration address” and that the incarcerated population’s “inclusion in Ward Six does nothing to advance the principle of representational equality.”

“We’re excited our case is going forward, and we urge the City to correct its prison gerrymandering problem without delay,” said Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “Unless the City acts promptly, Cranston will conduct the 2014 election under a one-person, three-quarters of a vote regime.”

Cranston residents Karen Davidson, Debbie Flitman, Eugene Perry, and Sylvia Weber have joined the ACLU of Rhode Island as plaintiffs in the case. They are represented in federal court by Demos, the Prison Policy Initiative, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“This is a big win, because it shows that our legal arguments are valid,” said Adam Lioz of Demos, counsel for the plaintiffs. “We hope the City will fix the problem–but if not, we look forward to proving our case at trial: that persons incarcerated at the ACI aren’t really constituents of local politicians and so shouldn’t be counted at the prison for purposes of representation.”

“Counting people at the ACI as constituents of Ward 6 officials makes no sense,” said Aleks Kajstura of the Prison Policy Initiative. “They can’t use the park or library, attend a City Council meeting, or send their kids to public schools. And, even those who can vote must do so from their actual legal residence, not the prison location.”

“Prison gerrymandering distorts the process and runs counter to the core principle of one person, one vote,” said Sean Young, attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “All Cranston voters should have an equal say in who their elected officials are. When citizens exercise their fundamental right to vote, they expect that their vote will be counted equally, not as if it were only three-fourths of someone else’s vote.”

The case is Davidson et. al. v. City of Cranston. Plaintiffs’ complaint can be found here and their response to Defendant’s motion to dismiss is here. Judge Lagueux’s ruling is here.

February 19, 2014

Plan violates ‘one person, one vote’ principle of the U.S. Constitution

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Contact:
Steven Brown, ACLU of Rhode Island, riaclu@riaclu.org, 401 831-7171
Alex Amend, Dēmos, aamend@demos.org, 917-822-7405
Aleks Kajstura, Prison Policy Initiative, akajstura@prisonpolicy.org, 413-527-0845
Inga Sarda-Sorensen, ACLU National, media@aclu.org, 212-549-2666

CRANSTON, R.I. — Local residents joined the ACLU of Rhode Island today to sue the City of Cranston, charging that the 2012 redistricting plan for the City Council and School Committee violates the one person, one vote principle of the U.S. Constitution by counting incarcerated people in their prison location as if they were all residents of Cranston.

Because those incarcerated were counted as Cranston residents, three voters in the prison’s district have as much voting power as four voters in every other city district, according to Census Bureau data. Cranston residents Karen Davidson, Debbie Flitman, Eugene Perry, and Sylvia Weber have joined the ACLU of Rhode Island as plaintiffs in the case. They are represented in federal court by Dēmos, the Prison Policy Initiative, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Plaintiff Davidson said today: “As a long-time resident and taxpayer of Cranston, I am deeply concerned that the City Council decided in 2012 to perpetuate this voting inequity, especially after the ACLU pointed out the constitutional problems with it. It is time for city officials to show some leadership and stop wasting taxpayers’ money defending themselves from legal challenges like this.”

The 2012 redistricting plan counted the population of Rhode Island’s only state prison complex, the Adult Correctional Institutions, as residents of Ward 6 even though the overwhelming majority of these individuals are not true residents of the district, but instead remain residents of their pre-incarceration community for virtually all legal purposes, including voting.

“Using the people incarcerated at the ACI to pad the resident population of Ward 6 is not only irrational, but also unconstitutional. Over 200 municipalities and counties across the country actively avoid this ‘prison gerrymandering’ when redistricting,” said Aleks Kajstura, Legal Director at the Prison Policy Initiative. “There is no reason for Cranston to give extra representation to a select group of residents just because they happen to live near a prison.”

According to Census Bureau data, without the incarcerated population, Ward 6 has only 10,209 true constituents. Yet those constituents now wield the same political power as the roughly 13,300 constituents in each of the other wards. This dilutes the voting strength and political influence of citizens residing outside of Ward 6, in clear violation of the Equal Protection requirements of Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“The people incarcerated in Cranston cannot vote in local elections, visit with their elected officials, or use the public library,” said Adam Lioz, Demos counsel. “So, they should not be used to pad districts, skewing voting power in violation of the one person, one vote principle. The City Council should do the right thing and correct its redistricting process.”

“All the voters of Cranston should have an equal say in who their elected officials should be. When a citizen exercises their fundamental right to vote, they expect that their vote will be counted equally, not as if it were only three-fourths of another citizen’s vote. Cranston elected officials should stop playing games and restore fairness to the democratic system,” said Sean Young, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

ACLU of Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown said, “In 2012, the ACLU testified before the City Council and urged members to draw district lines in a way that would protect the principle of ‘one person-one vote.’ More than 200 counties and municipalities facing prison gerrymandering have pro-actively addressed the problem. It is unfortunate that the Cranston City Council refused to do so, leaving us no choice but to file this lawsuit.”

The complaint, Davidson v. City of Cranston, was filed in U.S. District Court in Rhode Island. A copy of the complaint is here: http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/davidson/complaint.pdf

The lawsuit is being handled locally by ACLU of RI volunteer attorney Lynette Labinger, who only two years ago in a highly-publicized case successfully sued Cranston officials over the display of a prayer banner in a high school auditorium.

###

October 30, 2013

For more information contact:
Aleks Kajstura
(413) 527-0845

Easthampton, Mass. – Chances are, if there’s a prison on the other side of town, your voice in town affairs is muffled.

Why? Because the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people at prison locations—where they neither vote nor reside— rather than at their home addresses. When governments use this data to draw electoral districts, they grant undue political power to people who live near prisons and dilute the votes cast everywhere else. Although not always intentional, this “prison gerrymandering” often results in significant voting inequality. A new report from the Prison Policy Initiative, reveals that the Census Bureau’s counts of incarcerated populations lead 7 Massachusetts towns to dilute the votes of residents who do not live in the precinct that contains a correctional facility.

In both Ludlow and Plymouth, for example, 35% of a precinct’s representatives at town meeting are attributed to the jail population. That gives any 65 people who live in those precincts the same voice at town meeting as 100 residents from any other precinct.

These phantom constituents inflate the voice of the actual residents of that precinct and in turn dilute the votes of any resident in other precincts. “When the first town meeting in the United States was held 380 years ago in Dorchester, prison counts were probably the last thing on the participants’ minds,” said report author Aleks Kajstura. “But today, the way the Census Bureau counts people in prison is a big problem for the principle of ‘one person one vote.'”

The towns of Billerica, Dartmouth, Dedham, Framingham, Ludlow, Plymouth, and Walpole each contain a precinct where 17% to 35% of the precinct’s representatives are directly attributable to the Census Bureau’s prison miscount, finds the report.

“For most of these Massachusetts towns, the Census Bureau’s prison miscount just wasn’t on the radar,” Kajstura said. “But fortunately, towns can make simple adjustments to keep the Bureau’s prison counts from distorting local democracy.” The report concludes that even though the problem of prison gerrymandering originates from the Census Bureau’s methodology, towns can take action to address prison gerrymandering.

Additionally, a resolution calling on the Census Bureau to solve the problem nationwide by agreeing to tabulate incarcerated people as residents of their home addresses in the decennial census is currently pending in the Massachusetts Legislature, and just passed out of Joint Committee on Election Laws. The new Director of the Census Bureau, John Thompson, recently stated that he has not yet decided how prison populations will be counted in the 2020 Census.

April 17, 2013

Cover of Imported 'Constituents': Incarcerated People and Political Clout in Connecticut

Contact:
Prison Policy Initiative – Leah Sakala (413) 527-0845
Common Cause in Connecticut – Cheri Quickmire (860) 539-6846

If you don’t live next to a large prison, the General Assembly doesn’t think your vote is worth as much, charges a new report released this morning by the Prison Policy Initiative and Common Cause in Connecticut.

The report, “Imported ‘Constituents’: Incarcerated People and Political Clout in Connecticut,” examines how the state’s reliance on Census Bureau data – which counts incarcerated people as if they were residents of prison locations rather than their home communities — enhances the weight of votes cast in districts that contain prisons and dilutes the weight of a vote cast in all other districts. “About 10% of several Connecticut districts are made up of people who aren’t, by state law, residents of those districts,” said report author Peter Wagner.

The report finds that:

  • Almost half of the state’s prison population comes from the state’s five largest cities, but almost two-thirds of the state’s prison cells are located in just five small towns.
  • There are seven majority-White state house districts that claim at least 1,000 incarcerated people of color as residents of their districts.
  • Connecticut state law says that incarcerated people are residents of their homes, not the prison location.
  • Not all people in Connecticut prisons are barred from voting. Those who can vote – because they are awaiting trial or are not convicted of felonies — are required by state law to vote absentee as residents of their home districts.

The Connecticut Legislature is currently considering a bill, HB 6679, that would remedy the problem of prison gerrymandering by counting incarcerated people at their home addresses for redistricting purposes. “Right now, the Judiciary Committee has before them a bill that would end prison gerrymandering in Connecticut once and for all,” said Cheri Quickmire of Common Cause in Connecticut. “It’s time to pass this legislation and send the message that every Connecticut resident’s vote should count, regardless of whether or not he or she lives near a big prison.”

Four other states — New York, Maryland, Delaware, and California — have already passed similar legislation, and Maryland’s law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

The non-profit Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative is the nation’s leading authority on how Census counts of prison populations distort the legislative redistricting process. For the last decade the organization has been leading a national movement calling on the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people at home, and the organization’s research inspired four states to pass legislation in 2010 and 2011 to end prison gerrymandering.

Common Cause in Connecticut is a nonprofit, nonpartisan citizens lobby dedicated to improving the way state government operates. Whether it is advocating for opening committee meetings to the public or compelling the passage of the strongest campaign finance law in the nation, Common Cause in Connecticut has been a leading voice in reforming state government.

“Imported ‘Constituents’: Incarcerated People and Political Clout in Connecticut,” is available at http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/ct/

-30-

March 20, 2013

For immediate release: March 20, 2013

Contact:
Virginia New Majority: Deshundra Jefferson, (347) 834-3035
Prison Policy Initiative: Leah Sakala, (413) 527-0845
Dēmos: Lauren Strayer, 212-389-1415 or lstrayer@demos.org

Governor signs HB1339, changes law that required some counties to dilute the votes of county residents who did not live adjacent to a prison

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell on Monday signed HB 1339, which ends a state requirement that forced some local governments to engage in prison gerrymandering. The new law lifts limitations on which counties, cities and municipalities could exclude incarcerated populations for redistricting purposes. Rural counties that host prisons find that relying on the Census Bureau’s counts to draw districts can result in a single prison being the majority of a district, even though the incarcerated population is denied the right to vote. This distorts representation by giving disproportionate influence to the residents of the prison district and diluting the votes of residents of all other districts. The problem is often called “prison gerrymandering.”

“HB1339 caps a twelve-year effort to roll back a unique provision of Virginia law that barred local governments from making adjustments to the federal Census data,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of Prison Policy Initiative and a national expert on prison gerrymandering.

Virginia’s law now matches that of most states.

“Most states give local governments the choice to avoid prison gerrymandering, and a few states like Colorado and Michigan actually prohibit local governments from using Census Bureau prison counts to enhance the votes of some residents to the detriment of other residents,” said Brenda Wright, Vice-President for Legal Strategies at Dēmos.

“Ideally, the Census Bureau would tabulate incarcerated people where they reside, at home, so that all districts could be drawn more fairly” said Tram Nguyen, Deputy Director of Virginia New Majority, noting that incarcerated people can’t vote in Virginia but remain legal residents of their homes while they are incarcerated.

“But Virginia has today given rural counties the option to fix an obvious flaw in the decennial Census and draw fairer districts in the future. I expect most counties will take this opportunity when they next redraw their lines,” Nguyen added.

About the Virginia law

Prior to 2001, Virginia law required local governments to redistrict based on “figures … identical to those from the actual enumeration conducted by the United States Bureau of the Census” with no flexibility provided to correct for any inequities that might cause.

In 2001, the legislature amended the law to give some counties — those whose total population was at least 12% incarcerated — the option to exclude the prison population. This change freed some counties from the impossible situation of drawing districts that were entirely incarcerated, but still required counties like Southampton to draw a district where more than half of the population is in prison. Residents of that one district received twice the influence over Southampton County affairs as residents in other districts without the prison.

Efforts to amend the law in time for the 2011 redistricting were unsuccessful, but in 2012, the legislature unanimously passed legislation to give any jurisdiction faced with drawing a district that would be 12% or more incarcerated the option to adjust the Census and remove the non-resident prison population. The newest amendment extends the choice to avoid prison gerrymandering to all counties, cities and towns that contain correctional facilities.

HB 1339, sponsored by Delegate R. Lee Ware, Jr. (R-Powhatan) passed the House unanimously on January 23, and with bipartisan support in the Senate on February 15. The bill applies only to county, city or municipal redistricting, and does not apply to funding or other uses of Census data, including state redistricting.

National context

“My research has shown that the vast majority of counties and municipalities that host prisons reject prison gerrymandering. The majority of the exceptions are in states where state law is believed to require the absurd result of prison gerrymandering. Virginia fixed the problem with their state law. States like Minnesota, Tennessee and Wisconsin should follow Virginia’s lead,” said the Prison Policy Initiative’s Peter Wagner.

“By signing HB 1339, Governor McDonnell put Virginia in firmly in the camp of states that have rejected prison gerrymandering and helped ensure an equal voice for all citizens,” explained Brenda Wright of Dēmos. “Four states have recently passed legislation that ended prison gerrymandering for state legislative redistricting. The legislation in California and Delaware applies just to state legislative districts, but Maryland and New York both passed comprehensive legislation that applied to both state and local redistricting. Virginia has taken an important first step by freeing local governments from a state requirement at odds with the constitutional principle of ‘One Person One Vote’.”

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February 14, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: FEBRUARY 14, 2013

Contact:
Leah Sakala, Prison Policy Initiative, (413) 527-0845
Lauren Strayer, Dēmos, Lauren Strayer, (212) 389-1413

Easthampton, MA – Today, more than 200 civil rights, voting rights and criminal justice organizations sent a letter calling on the U.S. Census Bureau to seize a timely opportunity to research alternative ways to count incarcerated people in the decennial Census.

letter thumbnail

The letter expresses a national concern that the Bureau’s method of counting incarcerated people at prison locations, rather than in their home communities, leads to an unequal distribution of political power in state and local governments known as “prison gerrymandering.” The letter explains that incarcerated people are not considered residents of prisons for other purposes, but the Census Bureau’s method “concentrates a population that is disproportionately male, urban, and African-American or Latino in approximately 1,500 federal and state prisons that are far from their home communities.” The 210 organizations wrote, “We are concerned that the Census Bureau’s tabulation procedures distort the redistricting process, giving extra political influence to people who live near prisons while diluting the votes of residents in every other legislative district.”

Although the 2020 Census is seven years away, the Census Bureau is already deep in the planning process. The letter calls on the Bureau to pave the way for a national end to prison gerrymandering in 2020 by prioritizing research on how to count incarcerated people at home in the next census. “In order to develop the best possible methodology for fixing prison gerrymandering, the Census Bureau needs to address this research question now,” said Brenda Wright, Vice President of Legal Strategies at Dēmos.

The letter charges that “…Failing to count incarcerated people at home for redistricting purposes undermines the constitutional guarantee of ‘one person, one vote’, with critical implications for the health of our democracy.” For that reason, the organizations note, four states and more than 200 counties and municipalities have made their own adjustments to Census Bureau data in order to avoid prison gerrymandering. But while state and local governments are increasingly devising their own solutions, many face unique constraints and only the Census Bureau can implement a comprehensive and standardized national solution.

The letter credits the Census Bureau with recognizing that prison gerrymandering causes significant problems for state and local redistricting. Specifically, the Bureau began to address the problem by releasing 2010 Census data on prison populations ahead of schedule in order to allow state and local governments to adjust their redistricting data to avoid prison gerrymandering. “The Bureau has made great progress towards enabling state and local governments to find creative solutions to prison gerrymandering,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative, “and now the Bureau must use the current planning period to ensure that the 2010 Census is the last one to tabulate two million incarcerated people outside their home communities.

The full text of the letter, including a list of signers, is available at http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/letters/feb2013.html.

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