Illinois is poised to become the 10th state to end prison gerrymandering.

by Aleks Kajstura, January 13, 2021

Illinois’ HB 3653, a major criminal justice reform package, contains provisions ending prison gerrymandering for state legislative districts. The final language passed both the Senate and House today.

If signed by Governor Pritzker, it will make Illinois the 10th state to end prison gerrymandering. This reform represents a culmination of a decade-long effort, including CHANGE Illinois and United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations tirelessly pushing for reform.

Unanimous decision follows state legislature’s recommendation to count incarcerated people at home

by Ginger Jackson-Gleich, January 12, 2021

After the 2010 redistricting cycle, the California legislature passed a collection of bills—AB 420 (2011), AB 1986 (2012), AB 2172 (2018), and AB 849 (2019)—that sought to end prison gerrymandering at all levels of government.

At the local level, that legislation requires city and county governments to adjust redistricting data by counting incarcerated people in their home communities, rather than at the correctional facilities where they are detained. At the state level, the legislation recommends that the Citizens Redistricting Commission make that same adjustment.

This morning, the Commission convened to discuss and vote on that recommendation. At the close of the meeting, the Commission adopted the legislature’s recommendation through a unanimous, bipartisan vote of all those present.

The vote followed presentations by our own Aleks Kajstura and by Karin Mac Donald, Director of California’s Statewide Database and the Election Administration Research Center at UC Berkeley, as well as the submission of a letter from Assemblymember Shirley Weber, Ph.D., author of AB 2172 and newly designated Secretary of State for California.

No. We oppose voter-only districting — even our recommendation that incarcerated people be excluded in some contexts lends no support to the practice of voter-only districting.

by Ginger Jackson-Gleich, December 28, 2020

Who should be counted for redistricting purposes? Since the 2010 redistricting cycle, numerous events — from the Supreme Court’s decision in Evenwel v. Abbott to President Trump’s efforts to inquire into citizenship status in the 2020 Census — have drawn attention to this important question. For people interested in our work, an additional query often follows: how exactly should disenfranchised incarcerated people be counted toward district populations?

The fact that questions persist about our recommendations for counting incarcerated people is not surprising: journalists have reported our position inaccurately; advocates for voter-only districting have tried to twist and appropriate our words; and the exclusion of incarcerated people (who generally cannot vote) is one of the solutions to prison gerrymandering that we promote in specific, limited contexts. As a result, some people assume that opponents of prison gerrymandering support voter-only districting.

In advance of the upcoming redistricting cycle, we’d like to make our position on this issue clear: we believe that all persons, whether or not they can vote, are entitled to equal representation and that everyone should be counted for purposes of redistricting. The key concern with prison gerrymandering is not whether incarcerated people should count, but where they should count. Accordingly, districting based on the eligible-voter population is not an approach that we support.

As noted above, we suspect that some of the confusion surrounding this topic arises from our recommendation that incarcerated people be excluded from redistricting data when cities or counties draw local legislative districts around correctional facilities.

To understand why such exclusion does not amount to an endorsement of voter-only districting, it is necessary to see that prison gerrymandering causes two distinct problems: it undermines equality of representation between coequal legislative districts and it siphons political power from incarcerated people’s home communities. Both issues arise from the way the Census tabulates incarcerated populations: it allocates people to their temporary prison addresses, rather than counting them at home (despite the fact that they remain legal residents of their home addresses while incarcerated).

Just like state governments, local jurisdictions — such as cities and counties — have districts that are required to contain equal populations in order to ensure equal representation by local elected officials.

However, as one federal judge has beautifully explained, city councilors, county commissioners, and other local elected officials “can’t make decisions that meaningfully affect” the people incarcerated within their districts, nor can the governing bodies to which those representatives belong do anything for such populations, whose lives are generally governed by state (or even federal) authorities. In other words, unlike other non-voter populations (like children or permanent residents), there is no “representational nexus” between local elected officials and the people detained within their districts. As a result, excluding correctional facilities when local district lines are drawn ensures that districts will have equal numbers of actual residents — and therefore that residents will have truly equal representation.

Unfortunately, local jurisdictions cannot solve the problem of prison gerrymandering in its entirety. While they can avoid creating city or county legislative districts with unequal representation, they cannot — on their own — stop the transfer of political power from people’s home communities. This is because local jurisdictions can refuse to pad their own districts with prisons (by excluding correctional populations prior to drawing district lines), but they cannot restore incarcerated people to addresses outside of their own boundaries. Accordingly, local jurisdictions cannot singlehandedly end the siphoning of political power from incarcerated people’s home communities.

Importantly, the state-level solution is different from the local one; at the state level, exclusion is neither necessary nor beneficial because states can count incarcerated people at their home addresses statewide and thereby solve both parts of the prison gerrymandering problem. Thus, for local jurisdictions, we recommend excluding incarcerated populations prior to redistricting (a partial solution being better than no solution), while our ultimate hope is that states and the Census Bureau will implement the solutions necessary to solve the problem completely.

For all of these reasons, we continue to advocate that using total-population baselines (not eligible-voter populations) is the best method for redistricting, and that incarcerated people should be counted at their home addresses. This total-population approach (sometimes described as the pursuit of “representational equality”) ensures both that elected officials represent the same number of constituents (including those — such as children, non-citizens, and incarcerated people — who cannot vote), and also that officials have a meaningful representational connection to the people they purport to represent. By contrast, efforts to ensure “voter” or “electoral equality” limit representation to only those individuals eligible to cast ballots.

local fact sheet thumbnail

As part of our collection of updated resources for advocates, we have added a fact sheet that addresses local redistricting (and the prison gerrymandering solutions available to local governments). Readers may also wish to explore our other resources for the 2020 redistricting cycle, including a roundup of legislative solutions, as well as an explanation of why prison gerrymandering does not impact federal or state funding allocations.

Diverse support for ending prison gerrymandering builds momentum for action nationwide.

by Aleks Kajstura, December 18, 2020

Prison gerrymandering can feel like a complex, political quirk. Talking about Census Bureau policy and how the Bureau interprets its own sometimes-arcane “residence rules” can feel like getting deep in the weeds of policy. But prison gerrymandering is not a fringe issue. It has real-world implications for representation and public policies — and there are proven solutions. Since the Prison Policy Initiative and others have been working to solve this problem, we have seen growing public support and reform legislation passed around the country.

The problems stem from the way the Census Bureau conducts its counts. When counting the population every ten years, the Bureau tabulates incarcerated people as if they were residents of the locations where they are confined, even though they remain legal residents of their homes. When the resulting data is then used to draw legislative districts, all of a state’s incarcerated persons are credited to a small number of districts that contain large prisons. This has the effect of enhancing the representation of those districts and diluting representation of everyone else in the state, distorting policy decisions statewide. And since incarcerated populations are disproportionately Black and Latino, minority voting strength is diluted in the process. (Although this affects representation, it fortunately does not have major funding implications, for various reasons.)

Although prison gerrymandering remains a serious issue in most parts of the United States, there is a growing movement to solve it, and significant progress toward reform has been made at the Census Bureau and at all levels of government across the country. States have the power to use correctional data to adjust Census population counts when drawing districts. Since 2010, nine states — Maryland, New York, Delaware, California, Washington, Nevada, New Jersey, Colorado, and Virginia — have passed legislation to do so, ensuring that districts are drawn with data that counts incarcerated people at home. And more than 200 counties and municipalities independently adjust their redistricting data to avoid prison gerrymandering.

All in all, over 30% of US residents now live in a state, county, or municipality that has formally rejected prison gerrymandering:

prison gerrymandering legislation map

Additionally, where states have been unable to implement the most common solutions to prison gerrymandering, they have embraced other options available to them. For example, Massachusetts has not passed legislation, but it found another way to minimize the impact of prison gerrymandering when drawing districts following the 2010 Census, by specifically considering prison populations to ensure that the state would not accidentally (or purposely) concentrate prison populations within a small number of districts. The redistricting committee’s final report on their process devoted significant space to the prison gerrymandering problem and recommended that the Census Bureau create a national solution. The state legislature then doubled down on that recommendation and passed a joint resolution that officially calls on the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people at home. Notably, this solution is still available to any state that cannot pass legislation to count incarcerated people at home in time for the 2020 redistricting cycle.

These actions reflect strong public support for solving prison gerrymandering — and a push for the Census Bureau to change the way it counts in the first place. When the Census Bureau asked for public comment on how incarcerated people should be counted in 2015, over 99% of the 77,863 comments urged the Bureau to count incarcerated persons at their home address. And when the Bureau asked again a year later, almost 100,000 people voiced support for the change, including representatives from civil rights organizations, elected officials at all levels of government, former Directors of the Census Bureau, and citizens from across the country. The reform movement has also drawn editorial support from publications like the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In addition to legislative efforts and public comments, organizations and legislative bodies have shown opposition to the Census Bureau’s prison count and prison gerrymandering, by issuing formal resolutions and recommendations.

As a result of state and local governments’ push to avoid prison gerrymandering, as well as support from advocates and the public, the Census Bureau has recognized that the redistricting data it has historically provided does not meet the needs of those aiming to draw equal districts. Although the 2020 Census still counted incarcerated people as if they were residents of correctional facilities, the Bureau will be publishing prison population counts as part of each state’s redistricting data, making it easier for states and local governments to avoid prison gerrymandering.

As a record number of states and municipalities are poised to tackle prison gerrymandering during the upcoming redistricting cycle, now is the time to join the movement for change.

Prisons account for over half of the population in nearly 40 municipalities, painting a distorted picture of communities.

by Aleks Kajstura, November 10, 2020

The Ina Community Center shares a little unassuming building with the Ina Village Hall. The squat single-story structure probably serves the little Illinois village quite well. But judging by their Census population of over 2,300, you wouldn’t think the building adequate.

The village only has 494 actual residents. The 1,800 people who make up the remainder of the Census population are folks who are incarcerated at the Big Muddy Prison. Because the prison is located within the village boundaries, the Census counts them as if they were village residents. That means 80% of the population reported for Ina are legal residents of other villages, towns, and cities, scattered across Illinois.

Ina is just one of nearly 40 municipalities across the US where more than half of the Census population is actually people who were counted at a correctional facility. And in over 100 municipalities, at least one in three people counted by the Census are actually out-of-town residents.

I often talk about how the Census Bureau’s practice of counting incarcerated people as if they were residents of the town that contains the prison causes prison gerrymandering. Prison gerrymandering is the process of using prisons to pad district populations, resulting in increased political representation for people who live near prisons.

But the Census Bureau’s practice skews data in ways that affect more than just redistricting data and representation. When a prison accounts for half of your city population, the Census’ demographic information such as race and ethnicity is not representative of the local residents. Mass incarceration’s disproportionate impact on Black and Latino communities, coupled with prisons being built largely in white communities distorts the Census’ demographic data when people aren’t counted in their home communities. This often paints a distorted picture of job opportunities in the local economy.

Many people assume that prison gerrymandering affects funding allocation, but in fact funding allocation seems to be one of the few data uses left untouched by the Census’ prison miscount. Over the decades, funding formulas have developed a level of complexity that leaves them mostly impervious to the Census Bureau’s odd interpretation of residence.

This year, the Census once again counted all incarcerated people as residents of the facility where they were located on April 1. The population data that will be released over the next few months will therefore suffer from the same deficiencies for another decade; it will once again fail to represent the people who actually live in these communities. For now, places such as Ina can find some relevant information in the Census data, if they know where to look and dig carefully enough. Perhaps by 2030 the Census Bureau will count everyone at home rather than shifting the burden of making its data usable onto everyone else.

Municipalities where at least one third of the Census’ population count is made up of correctional facilities:
Place State 2010 Census Population Percent Incarcerated
Ina village Illinois 2,338 78.87%
Davisboro city Georgia 2,010 77.36%
Chester town Georgia 1,596 77.19%
Varnado village Louisiana 1,461 77.00%
Whiteville town Tennessee 4,638 74.51%
Sumner city Illinois 3,174 74.29%
Dannemora village New York 3,936 71.52%
Helena town Oklahoma 1,403 71.49%
Clifton city Tennessee 2,694 70.49%
Boley town Oklahoma 1,184 70.19%
Ridgeville town South Carolina 1,979 69.98%
Florence town Arizona 25,536 69.10%
Malone town Florida 2,088 68.97%
Alamo town Georgia 2,797 68.32%
Nicholls city Georgia 2,798 67.66%
Tutwiler town Mississippi 3,550 66.48%
Polkton town North Carolina 3,375 64.89%
Jasper city Florida 4,546 64.61%
Abbeville city Georgia 2,908 63.51%
Sheridan village Illinois 2,137 62.70%
Springfield city South Dakota 1,989 62.49%
Brunswick town North Carolina 1,119 61.75%
Grafton village Ohio 6,636 60.96%
Lumpkin city Georgia 2,741 58.23%
Clayton town Alabama 3,008 57.31%
Eden city Texas 2,766 56.25%
West Liberty city Kentucky 3,435 54.73%
Richwood town Louisiana 3,392 54.39%
Westville town Indiana 5,853 54.30%
Calipatria city California 7,705 54.04%
St. Gabriel city Louisiana 6,677 52.91%
Hinton town Oklahoma 3,196 52.72%
Tiptonville town Tennessee 4,464 52.67%
Wrightsville city Arkansas 2,114 52.41%
Gatesville city Texas 15,751 51.84%
Haysi town Virginia 498 51.41%
Licking city Missouri 3,124 51.18%
Carrabelle city Florida 2,778 51.12%
St. Louis city Michigan 7,482 49.22%
Bayboro town North Carolina 1,263 49.01%
Corcoran city California 24,813 48.84%
Eastville town Virginia 305 48.52%
Granite town Oklahoma 2,065 48.23%
Ione city California 7,918 48.17%
Redgranite village Wisconsin 2,149 47.74%
Reidsville city Georgia 4,944 47.53%
Unadilla city Georgia 3,796 46.47%
Susanville city California 17,947 46.25%
Sandstone city Minnesota 2,849 46.16%
Gunnison city Utah 3,285 46.03%
Urania town Louisiana 1,313 46.00%
Mayersville town Mississippi 547 45.89%
Edgefield town South Carolina 4,750 45.81%
Bayport city Minnesota 3,471 45.72%
Clarks village Louisiana 1,017 45.43%
Crescent City city California 7,643 45.35%
Ionia city Michigan 11,394 45.16%
McCormick town South Carolina 2,783 44.70%
Epps village Louisiana 854 44.26%
Eloy city Arizona 16,631 43.85%
Danbury town North Carolina 189 41.80%
Chester city Illinois 8,586 41.59%
Stanley city Wisconsin 3,608 41.57%
Baraga village Michigan 2,053 41.55%
Avenal city California 15,505 41.43%
Pinckneyville city Illinois 5,648 41.13%
Moose Lake city Minnesota 2,751 41.00%
Tehachapi city California 14,414 40.95%
Watonga city Oklahoma 5,111 40.76%
Jackson town Louisiana 3,842 40.66%
Brent city Alabama 4,947 40.57%
Hutchins city Texas 5,338 40.54%
New Lisbon city Wisconsin 2,554 40.13%
La Villa city Texas 1,957 40.01%
Helena city Georgia 2,883 39.75%
Chowchilla city California 18,720 39.08%
Soledad city California 25,738 39.04%
Milan village New Mexico 3,245 38.67%
Anthony town Texas 5,011 38.48%
Cambridge Springs borough Pennsylvania 2,595 38.30%
South Bay city Florida 4,876 38.25%
Mason town Tennessee 1,609 38.22%
Sayre city Oklahoma 4,375 37.71%
Jonesboro city Georgia 4,724 37.60%
Caryville town Florida 411 37.47%
Bonne Terre city Missouri 6,864 37.44%
Calico Rock city Arkansas 1,545 37.15%
Post city Texas 5,376 37.11%
Blythe city California 20,817 37.08%
Hudson town Colorado 2,356 36.97%
Estancia town New Mexico 1,655 36.80%
Bowling Green city Missouri 5,334 36.71%
Vandalia city Missouri 3,899 36.57%
Pine Prairie village Louisiana 1,610 36.40%
Airway Heights city Washington 6,114 35.72%
Tipton city Missouri 3,262 35.35%
Venus town Texas 2,960 35.20%
Pattonsburg city Missouri 348 35.06%
Cadwell town Georgia 528 34.85%
Connell city Washington 4,209 34.33%
Cameron city Missouri 9,933 34.09%
Kingston city Missouri 348 33.91%
Ridgeland town South Carolina 4,036 33.87%
Eddyville city Kentucky 2,554 33.71%

Dramatic examples of prison gerrymandering show the need for new districting practices in the Bayou State.

by Ginger Jackson-Gleich, October 9, 2020

Local governments across Louisiana will engage in redistricting after the 2020 Census. When they do, they will once again face decisions about whether to bestow disproportionate political power upon people who live near correctional facilities. The last time this process unfolded (following the 2010 Census), numerous jurisdictions — including parishes (akin to counties), cities, and towns — formed districts that were highly distorted by prison and jail populations.

For example, Allen Parish gave people living in a district with a federal correctional complex twice as much political power as residents who lived in districts without such a facility. Moreover, because Louisiana has the second-highest incarceration rate in the world and more than a dozen state or federal prisons (as well as dozens of local jails), it is unsurprising that these kinds of power imbalances — the result of “prison gerrymandering” — occur in many places throughout the state.

In addition to popping up in different parts of Louisiana, prison gerrymandering also occurs at numerous levels of government, creating problems at the state level (when district lines are drawn for state legislatures) and in parishes, cities, and towns where prison or jail populations typically constitute even larger portions of local district populations. In addition to undermining notions of representational equality, these population imbalances also create inaccurate pictures of community populations for research and planning purposes (although they do not typically impact federal funding, despite frequent assumptions to the contrary).

As we have explained before, prison gerrymandering happens primarily because the U.S. Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as residents of the places in which they are confined, despite the practical reality that (1) most people in prison cannot vote, and many people in jail are effectively barred from doing so (even if eligible), (2) most incarcerated people return to their home communities upon release and remain legal residents of their home addresses even while incarcerated, and (3) local elected officials often have little authority over the lives of people incarcerated within their districts.

While the state legislature in Louisiana engages in prison gerrymandering in drawing state districts, the state’s parishes (and the cities and towns within them) retain the power to utilize Census data to avoid prison gerrymandering when drawing local government districts. Indeed, as the Prison Policy Initiative has previously noted, some local governments in Louisiana have already taken it upon themselves to solve the problem of prison gerrymandering by removing incarcerated people from the districts they have drawn.

Notably, among the parishes with the largest prison populations (proportionally speaking), about half excluded prison populations during redistricting following the 2010 Census. For example, had Claiborne Parish included the prison population contained within its borders, one of the districts in the parish would have been composed entirely of a state prison.

Nonetheless, in many places throughout Louisiana, prison gerrymandering remains a problem. As noted above, Allen Parish is one striking example. The parish’s governing body (its police jury) has seven districts. According to the Census, Allen Parish had a total population of 25,764 in 2010; thus, each of the seven districts in its police jury should have had approximately 3,681 constituents following its 2010 redistricting.

However, Allen Parish relied on non-adjusted Census data to apportion people into those districts, and for one district (District 1) that data included 2,430 people incarcerated at the federal correctional complex within its borders. Using the raw Census data without adjusting it to account for the federal correctional complex meant that 66% of the “constituents” in District 1 ended up being people incarcerated at a federal prison, rather than people who would be meaningfully represented by the district’s elected police juror.

Examples from across the state show that the problem of prison gerrymandering looms large across Louisiana:

  • Allen Parish:
    • Police Jury District 1 (as explained above) includes the people incarcerated at the Oakdale Federal Correctional Complex, such that the incarcerated population accounts for 66% of the district’s “constituents.”
    • Police Jury District 6 includes the people incarcerated at the Allen Correctional Center, such that the incarcerated population accounts for 39% of the district’s “constituents.”
  • Madison Parish:
    • Police Jury District 2 includes the people incarcerated at the Madison Parish Correctional Center, such that the incarcerated population accounts for 37% of the district’s “constituents.”
    • Police Jury District 3 includes the people incarcerated at the Louisiana Transitional Center for Women, such that the incarcerated population accounts for 20% of the district’s “constituents.”
  • Town of Farmerville
    • District C includes the people incarcerated at a local detention center, such that the incarcerated population accounts for 42% of the district’s “constituents.”

Examples like these make clear that prison gerrymandering causes serious distortions to representational equality between constituents. In Allen Parish’s District 1, residents get twice the representation that residents of districts without a correctional facility have. Likewise, in Madison Parish’s District 2 (where the prison constitutes 37% percent of the population), every 63 residents in that district get the same degree of representation as 100 residents living elsewhere. Finally, in Farmerville, the jail in District C constitutes 42% of the district’s population, meaning that 58 residents there have the same political power as 100 residents elsewhere.

While the Census could solve the problem of prison gerrymandering in one fell swoop–by counting incarcerated people at home–it has so far declined to do so. In the absence of such a solution, states, counties, and local governments must act (as some Louisiana state legislators are already attempting to do).

Although it appears unlikely that Louisiana will count incarcerated people at home when drawing state legislative districts after the 2020 Census, cities and parishes can still avoid prison gerrymandering at the local level when they redistrict. Doing so will ensure that Louisiana residents have equal access to their parish, city, and town representatives and a fair say in local government.

One of the most common arguments against prison gerrymandering reform is the fear, among people in prison towns, that their communities will lose out on funding. It's a fear based on a misunderstanding of how federal and state funds are allocated.

by Aleks Kajstura, July 13, 2020

It’s that time of the decade again when the Census Bureau is hoping to count every single person in the country. Even though the April 1 “Census Day” has passed, the Bureau is still trying to convince the roughly 40% of US denizens that have yet to fill out a form that they should be counted. To persuade the hold-outs the Census Bureau, along with their state and local partners, rely on advertising how much money is riding on the count.

On its website where people can fill out the Census form, the Bureau stresses the financial stakes of counting people correctly: “Census results help determine how billions of dollars in federal funding flow into states and communities each year.” Funding makes an appearance in nearly every mention of how Census data is used. For example: “The 2020 Census will determine congressional representation, inform hundreds of billions in federal funding every year, and provide data that will impact communities for the next decade.”

Those statements are true. But some municipalities, desperate not to lose any population in the decennial count, often resort to putting a price tag on each person’s failure to respond. For example, as local officials in Georgia try to ensure that local residents are counted, the local paper peppers in claims like: “If only one person is counted in a house with four people, it will mean $69,000 less in local coffers over a decade.”

But while it’s true that a lot of funding depends in some way on Census data, this funding isn’t a lump sum that can be converted to a dollar amount per head. In fact, the same series of studies referenced in that Georgia newspaper warn against drawing such false conclusions.

A brief by Andrew Reamer, Research Professor at the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, gives a very detailed walkthrough of the types of population data used to distribute funding. Reamer’s brief makes it clear that per-head calculations are misleading. For a more digestible overview, try looking at a single state, such as Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Census 2020, Explained: How It Works and What’s at Stake for Massachusetts has a section on the Census’s funding impact, which correctly notes that some programs “may hardly be affected at all by Census counts.”

These details of the Census’s funding impact tie back to a question we’re getting a lot: Does the way people in prison are counted in the Census impact any particular area’s funding?

The Census Bureau counts incarcerated people at the location of the prison rather than as residents of their home addresses. This demonstrably skews a variety of statistical data for prison-hosting communities. And of course, it creates distorted population counts for determining representation in local and state legislative bodies, resulting in prison gerrymandering. But it does not draw in federal or state funding for the community hosting the prison.

Nine states have passed laws ending prison gerrymandering — adjusting their redistricting data to count incarcerated people at home rather than at the location of the prison — and none of these laws will impact funding distributions based on Census counts. New York and Maryland implemented their laws before the 2010 Census, and have not seen any impact to their formula funding. That makes sense, because no funding formula relies on redistricting data.

One of the most common arguments against prison gerrymandering reform is the fear among prison-hosting communities that they will lose out on funding, which they believe is based on the incarcerated population being counted in the prison town. This misunderstanding of how federal and state funds are allocated shouldn’t hold up reform any longer.

The new law makes Virginia the third state this year, and the ninth state in total, to end the practice known as prison gerrymandering.

April 27, 2020

For immediate release — Last week, Virginia passed Senate Bill 717 and its identical House bill, HB 1255, which ensure that people in state prisons will be counted as residents of their home addresses when new legislative districts are drawn. The new law makes Virginia the ninth state to end the practice known as prison gerrymandering, after Colorado and New Jersey passed their own laws earlier this year. Over 30% of US residents now live in a state, county, or municipality that has ended prison gerrymandering.

The Virginia Constitution states that, for the purposes of voting, people in prison remain residents of their hometowns. However, the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as residents of the places where they are incarcerated. As a result, when Virginia used Census counts to draw past legislative districts, it unintentionally enhanced the representation of people living in districts containing prisons.

“Virginia’s new law recognizes that ending prison gerrymandering is an important issue of fairness,” said Aleks Kajstura, Legal Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. “All districts — some far more than others — send people to prison, but only some districts contain prisons. Counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison gives extra representation to the prison district, dilutes the votes of everyone who does not live next to the state’s largest prison, and distorts the constitutional principle of one person, one vote. This new law offers Virginia voters a fairer data set on which future districts will be drawn.”

prison gerrymandering legislation map

In 2013, Virginia passed House Bill 1339, which ended a state requirement that had forced some local governments to engage in prison gerrymandering. HB 1339 lifted limitations on which counties, cities, and municipalities could exclude incarcerated populations for redistricting purposes. The new law passed last week builds on this progress by explicitly requiring Virginia state and local redistricting officials to count incarcerated people as residents of their home addresses.

Virginia is also considering a constitutional amendment, reforming the state’s redistricting process, that contains similar provisions ending prison gerrymandering. The amendment will be on the ballot for voters to approve in the fall. However, now that SB 717 and HB 1255 have passed, the success or failure of this constitutional amendment will not change how Virginia counts incarcerated people during redistricting.

Over 10 other states introduced legislation to end prison gerrymandering in the current legislative session. “We applaud Virginia for enacting reforms that will allow it to draw fairer state legislative districts,” Kajstura said. “Other states currently considering similar bills will need to act swiftly to ensure that reforms can be implemented for the upcoming redistricting cycle, but unfortunately many states have needed to end their legislative sessions early because of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Virginia’s new law applies only to redistricting, and will not affect federal or state funding distributions.

Colorado moved swiftly, ending prison gerrymandering in a single legislative session.

March 23, 2020

For immediate release — Last Friday (March 20, 2020), Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a bill into law ensuring that people in state prisons will be counted as residents of their home addresses when new legislative districts are drawn. The new law makes Colorado the eighth state to end the practice known as prison gerrymandering, after New Jersey passed its own law earlier this year.

The Colorado Constitution states that, for the purposes of voting, people in prison remain residents of their hometowns. However, the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as residents of the places where they are incarcerated.

As a result, when Colorado used Census counts to draw past legislative districts, it unintentionally enhanced the representation of people living in districts containing prisons. The result of this distortion was dramatic: In three state legislative districts, people in prison accounted for 12%, 8%, and 5% of the district’s population. Each of these districts, therefore, had far fewer actual district residents than any other district in the state.

“Colorado’s new law recognizes that ending prison gerrymandering is an important issue of fairness,” said Aleks Kajstura, Legal Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. “All districts — some far more than others — send people to prison, but only some districts contain prisons. Counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison gives extra representation to the prison district, dilutes the votes of everyone who does not live next to the state’s largest prison, and distorts the constitutional principle of one person, one vote. This new law offers Colorado voters a fairer data set on which future districts will be drawn.”

prison gerrymandering legislation map

“More accurate district maps, a fairer count of Coloradans, and better population data means a stronger democracy,” sponsors Kerry Tipper and James Coleman argued in The Denver Post last month. “This bill will make a difference for everyone who wants to ensure their districts have the most accurate representation possible.”

The legislation, passed as HB 20-1010, applies only to redistricting and will not affect federal or state funding distributions.

Over 10 other states introduced legislation to end prison gerrymandering in the current session. “We applaud Colorado for enacting common-sense solutions in a single legislative session, and other states currently considering similar bills should follow its example,” Kajstura said.

A new resource from the Prison Policy Initiative and State Innovation Exchange.

by Aleks Kajstura, March 5, 2020

report thumbnailSiX and the Prison Policy Initiative have released a guide to ending prison gerrymandering for state legislators. Whether you’re new to prison gerrymandering, working on a bill already filed this session, or somewhere in between, there’s something for everyone in this guide — it includes lessons from our previous advocacy, detailed policy recommendations, talking points, and much more.

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