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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.

Can you help us continue the fight? All gifts made this year will be automatically matched by other donors. Thank you.

Peter Wagner, Executive DirectorDonate

Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: Mississippi

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 local level:

  • Bolivar, Greene and Wilkinson counties all choose to draw fair districts after the 2000 Census without regard to the prison population.
  • After the 2000 Census, Rankin County drew a legislative district that was 10.8% prisoners, giving every 9 residents of the district that contains the prison as much influence as 10 residents in other county districts.
  • New prisons built in Adams, Lauderdale and Tallahatchie counties over the last decade will result in a significant portion of the population reported in the 2010 Census consisting of incarcerated people. Unless corrective action is taken, these counties will be draw districts that give more influence to the residents who live in the district with the prison than that given to residents in other districts.
  • More research needs to be done, especially in the counties of Sunflower, Issaquena, Yazoo, Jefferson, Leflore, Marshall, Carrol, and Leake. (These counties contain large prisons relative to their actual population, an in Yazoo County, the construction of a new federal prison over the last decade will make the Census Bureau's prison miscount an even larger issue this decade.) 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.

Mississippi law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • Mississippi statute § 47-1-63 explicitly states "No person shall be deemed to be a resident of a county solely because of being incarcerated in a facility under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections that is located in such county."
  • In 2002, the Attorney General stated that incarcerated people "are not deemed 'residents' of that county or locality [where their prison is located], as incarceration cannot be viewed as a voluntary abandonment of residency in one locale in favor of residency in the facility or jail." (MS AG. Op. #02-0060, Johnson, Feb 22., 2002)

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 Mississippi 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:

  • A list of new large prisons built in Mississippi since the 2000 Census. These prisons are likely to create new prison-based gerrymandering problems after their populations are counted in the 2010 census.
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