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Prison gerrymandering gives extra political power to legislators who have prisons in their districts. We put numbers on the problem and sparked a movement to protect our democratic process from the overgrown prison system.

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Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: Indiana

50 State Guide, March 2010

Prison-based gerrymandering violates the constitutional principle of "One Person, One Vote." The Supreme Court requires districts to be based on equal population in order to give each resident the same access to government. But a longstanding flaw in the Census counts incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, even though they can’t vote and aren’t a part of the surrounding community.

When legislators claim people incarcerated in their districts are legitimate constituents, they award people who live close to the prison more of a say in government than everybody else.

Impact at the state level:

  • Marion County (Indianapolis) is home for less than 14% of Indiana, but more than 29% of the state's prisoners are from Marion County.
  • Most of the state's prisoners are incarcerated far from their homes.
  • 5.7% of the population credited to House District 20 after the 2000 Census was incarcerated. This gave every 94 people in District 20 as much influence as 100 people in every other House district.

Impact at the local level:

  • After the 2000 Census, City Council District 1 in Terre Haute was more than 20% prisoners, giving each group of 8 residents in District 1 the same clout as 10 residents in other city council districts. The population of the federal prison complex is now larger than during the 2000 Census, making the potential vote dilution problem worse. If uncorrected after the 2010 Census, the expanded prison will be 30 percent of the district, giving every 7 residents near the prison as much influence as 10 elsewhere.
  • Unless Putnam County takes corrective action when redistricting in 2011, they will be drawing a county commission district that will be 18% prisoners. Every 4 residents who live next to the prison will be given as much influence over the future of the county as every group of 5 residents in the other districts. (The county hasn't updated its legislative district boundaries in decades, so there is a large existing population imbalance in the districts, separate from the prison question. We assume that the county will have to redistrict this decade.)
  • More research needs to be done in the Michigan City and Vigo County as these communities contain a large prison population relative to their actual population. Unless the prison populations were removed from the redistricting base after the last Census, these communities have one or more districts that are significantly padded with non-resident prison populations. See the Democracy Toolkit for a suggested research methodology.
  • New or expanded prisons built in Henry and Miami counties over the last decade mean that a significant portion of the population counted in 2010 Census will be incarcerated. These counties may have to choose between adjusting the Census and giving the residents who live near the prisons a significantly larger say in county government.

Indiana law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • Incarceration is not voluntary, so a prison cell can not be a residence under the Indiana code:

    Abandonment of residence
         Sec. 4. A person who has a residence in a precinct retains residency in that precinct until the person abandons the residence by:
            (1) having the intent to abandon the residence;
            (2) having the intent to establish a new residence; and
            (3) acting as provided in this intent by establishing a residence in a new precinct.
    Indiana Code §3-5-5-4.

Other solutions:

  • Ideally, the U.S. Census Bureau would change where it counts incarcerated people. They should be counted as residents of their home — not prison — addresses. There is no time for that in 2010, but Indiana should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020.
  • After the 2010 Census, the state and its local governments should, to the degree possible, count incarcerated people as residents of their home communities for redistricting purposes. Where that is not feasible, incarcerated people should be treated as providing unknown addresses instead of being used to pad the legislative districts that contain prisons.

Additional resources:

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