Sumter County Florida should reconsider prison-based gerrymandering

Sumter County Florida should reconsider its plan to give some people more than twice the influence of others just because they happen to live next to a large federal prison.

by Peter Wagner, March 3, 2011

Three weeks ago, I wrote about Sumter County Florida’s plan to engage in prison-based gerrymandering. According to the Daily Commercial those plans are unchanged even though the injustice is becoming clearer:

Even though they’re in his district, [County Commissioner Randy] Mask doesn’t see himself “representing” the inmates at the federal prison.

“I don’t know that I represent them,” Mask said last week. “No one’s called me about a pothole.”

Like Hays, Mask sees no problem with counting prisoners as permanent county residents.

“We’ve always done it that way,” he said.

I sent this letter to the editor yesterday:

Commissioner Mask should reconsider

Dear editor,

Sumter County Commissioner Randy Mask admits he doesn’t really represent the prisoners incarcerated in his district [Prisoners count, March 2]. But he proposes to continue the county’s practice of including the prison population when drawing county commissioner districts. He should reconsider.

The expanded federal prison complex could be about half of a district. Using the 8,000 prisoners as padding in his district will result in drawing his district with only about 8,000 county residents while the other 4 districts have about 16,000 people each.

Does it make sense to give some people twice the access to the County Commission as others just because they happen to live next to a large prison? I don’t think so, and neither do the residents of Florida’s Columbia, Hamilton, Holmes, Gulf and Madison counties or the residents of more than 100 rural counties and municipalities around the country which all refuse to use prison populations when drawing districts.

It’s true that Sumter County didn’t draw its districts as fairly as they could have in the past. But the prison is larger now and the county has new information. It’s time to do something new.

Peter Wagner
Prison Policy Initiative
Easthampton MA

The writer is Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative and the author of Prison-Based Gerrymandering in Florida Counties.

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