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.

Can you stand up for smart and effective justice policy by joining our small network of donors today? You can make a one-time gift, or even become one of our sustaining monthly donors.

Through the end of 2014, your contribution to our work will stretch twice as far thanks to a match commitment from a small group of other donors like you.

I thank you for your investment in our work towards a more just tomorrow.
—Peter
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Shorts archives

by Aleks Kajstura, September 12, 2014

Massachusetts' joint resolution calling on the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people at their home addressesToday, the Massachusetts legislature delivered its joint resolution to Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson.

The resolution urges the Census Bureau to provide the state with redistricting data that tabulates incarcerated people at their home addresses. By tabulating incarcerated people at their residential addresses, as called for in the resolution, the Bureau would create a national and permanent solution to prison gerrymandering.

by Aleks Kajstura, August 22, 2014

Three U.S. Senators recently wrote a joint letter to the Census Bureau, reiterating that the Census’ current methodology of tabulating incarcerated people as if they were residents of the prison location rather than of their home addresses leads to prison gerrymandering. Noting that the Census Bureau is in the best position to end prison gerrymandering nationally — saving the states from each having to adjust Census data themselves — the Senators asked the Bureau to inform them of the “steps it is taking in the near term” toward counting incarcerated people as residents of their home address.

The Senators’ letter, along with others written to the Census Bureau, can be found on our letters page.

by Aleks Kajstura, June 10, 2014

Yesterday I had the pleasure of joining three League of Women Voters members (from Virginia, Delaware, and California) and the Census Bureau’s redistricting data chief, Cathy McCully, on a caucus panel to talk about prison gerrymandering at the League of Women Voters’ 2014 Convention.

Our panel on prison gerrymandering covered the scope of the issue across the U.S., legislative and litigation efforts seeking to end prison gerrymandering, as well as the Census Bureau’s perspective on the problem.

I also used the panel as an opportunity to debut PPI’s new briefing packet on prison gerrymandering, check it out.

by Peter Wagner, May 2, 2014

Last night, the Rhode Island Senate Committee on the Judiciary unanimously passed S2286, “The Residence of Those in Government Custody Act,” sponsored by Senators Metts, Crowley, Pichardo, and Jabour. The bill now moves on to the floor. Earlier this week, the House committee held a hearing on the bill. To stay up to date on the bill, see our Rhode Island campaign page.

by Aleks Kajstura, April 3, 2014

On Monday Cranston voters and the ACLU of Rhode Island asked the court to let the case continue against the City’s prison gerrymandering scheme, filing a response to the City’s motion to dismiss.

Our Davidson case page has more info on the case, including the response above and other legal documents.

by Aleks Kajstura, April 1, 2014

Today, Ed Fitzpatrick, political columnist for the Providence journal, tackled prison gerrymandering in Rhode Island:

[T]here’s nothing unusual about the fact that new Democratic House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello now wields more power than if he were simply representing part of Cranston.

But there is one unusual thing about Mattiello’s House district: 8.6 percent of the people in his district are inmates at the Adult Correctional Institutions, and the vast majority of those inmates can’t vote for or against him, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, based in Easthampton, Mass.

“It’s representation without population,” said the group’s legal director, Aleks Kajstura. “Counting incarcerated people as if they were residents of the ACI undermines the principle of one person, one vote.”

According to 2010 Census data, the ACI in Cranston houses 3,433 inmates, and many of them are ineligible to vote because they’re behind bars for a felony conviction. About 1,000 of the inmates face misdemeanors or are awaiting trial and can still vote. But they must vote by absentee ballot using the address they had before they checked into A.T. Wall’s graybar hotel (as I like to call it)….

“[Mattiello] has a responsibility to fix this problem, especially now that he is speaker,” Prison Policy Initiative executive director Peter J. Wagner said Monday. “This is about fairness and what’s right for the state. It’s not one corner of Cranston. He has a responsibility to ensure all state residents equal representation in government.”

by Aleks Kajstura, March 20, 2014

The Boston Globe published an article by Johanna Seltz today taking a thorough look at how prison gerrymandering undermines democracy in Massachusetts:

It’s been called the purest form of democracy — the annual Massachusetts ritual of town meeting dating back to the 1630s — when neighbors get together to spend their community’s money and set its rules, arguing everything from whether to build a new school to how much to charge for trash disposal.

But as this spring’s town meeting season rolls in, a research group is questioning whether the institution is working as it should in communities that host prisons, including Billerica, Dedham, Framingham, Plymouth, and Walpole.

The Prison Policy Initiative in Easthampton says that voters in some precincts in those towns wield unfair power — with more town meeting members than they should have.

That’s because the US Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as residents of their prison locations, rather than their home addresses, according to report author Aleks Kajstura. The method is used, she said, even though prisoners can’t vote in local elections.

…Walpole Town Clerk Ron Fucile said he’s been concerned for a while about the fairness of including the prisoners at the state MCI-Cedar Junction as part of the town’s precinct five. Earlier this month he successfully asked selectmen to reduce the number of Town Meeting seats in that precinct by one — adding it to another precinct.

“It’s more the way it ought to be,” Fucile said. He said he’d ultimately like the town charter changed to scrub the prison population altogether from the formula used to determine precinct seats. The number of prisoners fluctuates, but is usually about 700, he said.

“I also told the board it is time the Census Bureau and our Legislature come up with a law which addresses the prison being there,” he added.

In fact, pending legislation on Beacon Hill would “urge” the Census Bureau to use prisoners’ home addresses for redistricting purposes.

The bill, sponsored by Senators Sonia Chang-Diaz and Linda Dorcena Forry of Boston and Representative Thomas Stanley of Waltham, says that the current method “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.”

Study says prison population pads voter tally in some districts, by Johanna Seltz, Boston Globe

For more info, check out our Massachusetts page on ending prison gerrymandering in Massachusetts.

by Aleks Kajstura, March 4, 2014

The League of Women Voters of Virginia recently sent a letter to the Census Bureau, calling on the Bureau to end prison gerrymandering by counting incarcerated people as residents of their home addresses by the next Census.

For more info check out the League’s newsletter article onVirginia’s continuing struggles with prison gerrymandering, and our page tracking the Virginia campaign to end prison gerrymandering.

by Aleks Kajstura, February 14, 2014

This week the New Jersey and Rhode Island state legislatures held hearings on their respective bills to end prison gerrymandering.

On Monday, the New Jersey Assembly Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Assembly Bill 659. After receiving testimony from the ACLU and PPI, the bill was successfully reported favorably out of committee.

The next day, Rhode Island’s Senate Bill 0147 was up for discussion before the Rhode Island Senate Committee on Judiciary. We submitted testimony in support of the bill and expect the committee to vote on the bill soon.

by Aleks Kajstura, December 10, 2013

One thing I didn’t mention in yesterday’s post about Jonathan Tilove’s article is the coverage it received at the Texas criminal justice blog, Grits for Breakfast: Rural counties treat prisoners as political footballs when drawing electoral districts.

The whole post is worth a read for its frank analysis of Texas’ state and county politics surrounding prison gerrymandering, but its conclusion summarized the state’s failure to end prison gerrymandering best:

…as long as the topic is considered through the lens of state-level partisanship instead of county-level pragmatism, changing it in the near future would be an uphill climb.

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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