An Illinois prison census bill would bring fairness to redistricting

The city of Danville, Illinois already rejects the idea of using prison populations to draw city districts. Its state and its county should follow suit.

by Peter Wagner, May 17, 2010

The Danville, Illinois Commercial-News is reporting that Loss of prisoners would hurt city. I sent the below letter to the editor which explains that the bill in question would not apply to funding, and I report for the first time that Danville is among the rural Illinois cities that already reject the Census Bureau’s prison count for their own internal redistricting.–Peter Wagner

Your article Loss of prisoners would hurt city [May 15, 2010] says that the Prisoner Census Adjustment Act [HB4650] would cost Danville funds. The bill, which died this session but I hope will be reintroduced in a different form, does not apply to funding.

It merely changes the redistricting data so that state and local governments can draw fair districts based on the actual legal residence of the population. The bill would bring fairness and consistency to redistricting.

The City of Danville already rejected the Census Bureau’s prison count when drawing its local districts after the last Census. The city was right that drawing a district that was 40% prisoners would be unfair to residents in other parts of the city.

Danville is not alone in rejecting the Census Bureau’s prison count. Ten Illinois counties and 4 other Illinois cities do the same.

But both the state legislative districts and the Vermilion County Board are based on prison populations. Using prisoners to pad one Vermilion County Board district dilutes the votes of the residents of the other districts by about 20%.

A state bill to create one consistent dataset for use in redistricting is the best way to go. Everyone should have the same access to government regardless of whether she lives next to a large prison.

Peter Wagner
Executive Director
Prison Policy Initiative
The writer is co-author of Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in Illinois, a district-by-district and county-by-county analysis of how the Census Bureau’s prison counts distort democracy.

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