Forty out of forty legislators agree: Prisoners incarcerated in my district are not really my constituents

by Peter Wagner, March 8, 2004 argues that prisoners are a part of the community where they originated and not the prison-hosting community. Home is where their social, political and cultural ties are. But do legislators look at it the same way?

Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman decided to find out:

“… I sent to all members of the lower house of the Indiana state legislature a brief survey that included the following question:

“Which inmate would you feel was more truly a part of your constituency?

“a) An inmate who is currently incarcerated in a prison located in your district, but has no other ties to your district.

“b) An inmate who is currently incarcerated in a prison in another district, but who lived in your district before being convicted and/or whose family still lives in your district.

“Every single one of the forty respondents who answered the question – regardless of their political party or the presence or absence of a prison in their district – chose answer (b). Had the responses been more ambiguous there might have been reason to repeat the survey with other groups of legislators. However, unless there is something highly anomalous about Indiana, it is quite clear that representatives do not consider inmates to be constituents of the districts in which they are incarcerated – unless, of course, they happen to have prior ties to those districts.

Since everybody agrees that prisoners should be represented at home, the Census should count prisoners in the same place — at home.

Source: Counting Matters: Prison inmates, population bases, and “one person, one vote”, by Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman 11 Va. J. Soc. Pol’y & L. 229, 303. (Winter 2004)

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