Maryland releases adjusted redistricting data that counts incarcerated people at home.

by Peter Wagner, March 22, 2011

The Maryland Department of Planning issued this press release:

Maryland Redistricting Population Count Released
Adjusted in accordance with “No Representation Without Population Act” of 2010

BALTIMORE – The Secretaries of the Maryland Department of Planning (MDP) and the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) and the executive director of the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) today certified adjusted Census figures for the purposes of redistricting in accordance with the Maryland “No Representation Without Population Act” of 2010.

The Act, approved by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor last year, requires that prisoners in state or federal prisons are counted for Congressional, State Legislative and local redistricting purposes based on their last known address before incarceration. Information on some 22,000 prisoners was reviewed in the process of implementing the Act. Maryland, like all states, redistricts every 10 years after the decennial census is completed. The U.S. Census Bureau on Feb. 9, 2011 delivered the data to Maryland from the national Census conducted in spring 2010.

Read the rest of the press release from the state, and check out our Maryland campaign page for some of the research, advocacy, and editorial support that led to passage of the first-in-the-nation “No Representation Without Population” Act.

Update: Thanks to Keesha Gaskins at the Brennan Center for Justice for sending along this article:

Feds foil Md. redistricting plan to count inmates by former home

by Steve Kilar, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON — A federal roadblock has stopped Maryland short of counting all prison inmates at their pre-incarceration addresses in order to draw political boundaries.

An appeal for the addresses has been made to the U.S. Department of Justice, said Andrew Ratner, a representative for the Maryland Department of Planning. But because the Baltimore City charter requires approval of a redistricting map by April 1, the department decided to release revised population figures now.

“We couldn’t wait any longer,” Ratner said. “We felt we had to move forward.”

But the new numbers are not adjusted to reflect residents of Maryland’s federal penitentiary in Cumberland — as required by a 2010 Maryland law — because the Federal Bureau of Prisons denied the state’s request for prior residence information.

The headline’s “foil” is a stronger verb than I would have used, but the story is a good introduction to the unnecessary problem created by the Bureau of Prisons, to the innovative solution employed in Maryland, and to the importance of ending prison-based gerrymandering. Read the article Feds foil Md. redistricting plan to count inmates by former home

Do two Reps. think it makes sense to claim thousands of disenfranchised Black and Latino urban men as "constituents" of their white rural districts?

by Peter Wagner, March 19, 2011

Andrew Adams has a piece on OpEdNews questioning why two upstate members of the state Assembly are calling for a repeal of the law ending prison-based gerrymandering. Do these Assemblymembers really think it makes sense to claim thousands of disenfranchised African-American and Latino urban men as their “constituents” of their mostly white rural districts?

The article: Rural New York Legislators Propose Resurrecting Jim Crow

New fact sheets about prison-based gerrymandering in Wisconsin's upcoming redistricting efforts.

by Aleks Kajstura, March 16, 2011

Wisconsin has some new prison-based gerrymandering problems to contend with in its upcoming redistricting effort. We updated our fact sheets on Wisconsin to highlight current and upcoming potential problems.

A new prison can create potential problems that a county may not yet be aware of. For example, the Census Bureau just counted 1025 people incarcerated at the New Lisbon Correctional Institution as residents of New Lisbon in Juneau County. The county is about to redraw its 21 County Board of Supervisors districts, so that each district contains about 1,270 people.

Unless the Juneau County Board decides to reject the Census Bureau’s prison count, the district that includes the New Lisbon Correctional Institution would be 80% prisoners. Every resident near the prison would be given as much say over the future of the county as 5 residents in every other district. Giving a small group of people 5 times as much political power as other residents because they happen to have a prison nearby isn’t just unfair; it violates state and federal law.

This redistricting cycle also provides a great opportunity for counties with existing prison-based district distortions to ensure exclude prison populations and ensure that for the coming decade, everyone has an equal say in county government, whether they live next to a prison or not.

Jessica Pupovac of Illinois Issues covers Illinois efforts to end prison-based gerrymandering.

by Andrew Adams, March 16, 2011

article thumbnailAs the Census Bureau was just beginning its count last year, State Rep. LaShawn Ford, a Chicago Democrat, sponsored a bill to correct prison-based gerrymandering in Illinois.

Jessica Pupovac, in a February 2010 article in Illinois Issues, wrote that:

50,000 prisoners throughout Illinois will be counted at [prisons located] in communities where they are unlikely to ever cast a ballot, send a child to school or access social services.

Now, a year later with the census complete, Rep. Ford’s bill is again live in the House.

Pupovac interviews U.S. Census Bureau’s Jim Dinwiddie who explains, “We’ve been doing that the same way since 1790.”

The Census Bureau has always counted prisoners at the location of the prison, but only recently in the era of mass incarceration has this effected legislative districts. For example, Lee County is comprised of four districts, each containing about 9,000 people. But the population of one of Lee’s districts is 25% prisoners. 75 voters in the district containing the prison have the same voting power as 100 voters in the other districts.

Nonetheless, Dinwiddie told Pupovac:

The main thing is that everybody understands this is how we do it, and then they can interpret the data the way they interpret the data. States may want to look at how they do their districting or fund allocation within the state. Maybe they want to exclude populations…. That’s up to them.

So Rep. Ford’s proposed legislation is fine with the Census Bureau. In fact, Pupovac tells us that, “At least seven counties in Illinois – Logan, Christian, LaSalle, Livingston, Crawford, Fulton and Knox – have taken it upon themselves to tweak their population figures so that prison populations simply aren’t included in city and county districting.”

Moreover, Illinois courts have already said that an inmate isn’t a resident of the prison. County of Franklin v. County of Henry, take this obvious point and make it explicit: “a person confined in prison under the judgment and sentence of a court does not thereby change his residence.”

41% of Illinois’ 50,000 inmates are from Chicago’s Cook County, but 90% of these inmates are incarcerated downstate. As Pupovac points out:

In 20 Illinois counties, more than half of the black population reported in the census as local residents are in fact incarcerated people from elsewhere in the state.


95 percent of the state and federal prison cells are located in disproportionately white counties.

Rep. Ford points out what many are already thinking:

It erodes minority influence in government. You have to have good representation for all people in government. That’s why it’s there. And if you don’t have everyone represented, then it’s not a good representative government.

Who would oppose such sensible legislation? Pupovac’s article points to State Rep. John Cavaletto, a Republican from downstate Salem whose district includes a prison population of about 3,500 prisoners.

Cavaletto offers two reasons to ignore existing state law and oppose Rep. Ford’s legislation. First, Cavaletto argues that counting incarcerated people in their home communities is “nothing more than a grab for representation.”

The real grab for representation is in Cavaletto’s district. Their votes have more power than their neighbors in other rural districts that don’t contain a prison.

Cavaletto insinuates that should prisoners be counted at home, his district, which already benefits from “extra representation”, will lose out on valuable federal and state funds. As Pupovac writes, “He fears that any changes in population could negatively affect the already struggling, rural communities he represents.” The bill, however, does not apply to federal or state funding.

Ford, the Chicago Rep. who sponsored the legislation, said:

Contrary to popular perception, most inmates serve short sentences, and [when they return home], many of them struggle to find the resources they need to avoid going back to prison.

So why does Cavaletto think that his struggling, rural white constituents deserve representation on the back of Ford’s struggling, urban, and largely black constituents?

“Members of communities I represent put themselves in harm’s way every day guarding Illinois’ most dangerous criminals,” says Cavaletto.

It’s clear to me that while Cavaletto is fighting to have these “dangerous criminals” bussed to his district, he only wants prisoners for their sheer numbers, not as constituents. As Pam Karlan wrote, because electoral districts are based on population, people in prison serve as essentially inert ballast in the redistricting process.

HB94 sponsored by Rep. Lashawn Ford, has passed out of committee and is before the full Illinois House.

by Peter Wagner, March 15, 2011

Illinois’ HB94, Prisoner Census Addresses, sponsored by Rep. Lashawn Ford, has passed out of committee. The bill would, starting with the next census, count incarcerated people at home. It is now before the full house. Read Rep. Ford’s press release.

Illinois should pass its bill, HB 94, to end prison-based gerrymandering and join other states giving everyone an equal vote regardless of where they live.

by Josina Morita, March 15, 2011

The Census Bureau released the data for Illinois last month, and redistricting for the state and many county governments is underway. Unfortunately, the data has a systematic flaw: the census counts incarcerated people as residents of the prison address, not as residents of their legal home addresses. Our state legislature and county governments must choose between correcting the census or diluting the votes of their own constituents. The practice of miscounting incarcerated persons as “residents” of a prison—which Illinois courts are clear is not a legal residence for redistricting—when drawing legislative districts in order to give extra influence to the districts that contain the prisons is called prison-based gerrymandering. It’s a problem that has until recently gone unnoticed, but can be easily addressed by excluding prisoners from census counts – a perfectly legal solution that many states and local governments have started to do. Illinois should pass HB 94 and join other states that have passed bills to end prison-based gerrymandering and ensure fair representation for all of its residents. In the past year, Maryland, Delaware, and New York have all passed bills outlawing prison-based gerrymandering; similar bills are under consideration in Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, and Oregon as well. Illinois should be the next to outlaw prison-based gerrymandering. House Bill 94 is under consideration in Springfield right now.

Should 49 people have the same voting power as 2,407? That’s the question that advocates of ending prison-based gerrymandering are asking.

Rural Illinois may provide the most striking example yet of prison-based gerrymandering in the entire nation. Lawrence County, Illinois looks likes it’s on the upswing with a 9% population growth rate, three times higher than the growth rate for the entire state. And it looks like it’s becoming a more attractive place to live for African-Americans with a 1,243% increase in African-Americans since 2000. But look a little closer. The Lawrence Correctional Center opened after the last census, holding 2,358 prisoners, over 1,400 of which were African-American. Those prisoners were counted in Lawrence County in the 2010 census, and will be counted there in the current redistricting process, diluting the voting strength of voters everywhere in the state.

Prison-based gerrymandering will dramatically impact Lawrence County’s redistricting. Those counted in the county, including prisoners, will be divided into 7 board districts of 2,407 people each. The district near the prison will only contain 49 people who can actually vote. The people who live next to Lawrence Correctional Center will have almost fifty times the voting power over the county board as other residents. People who live immediately adjacent to prisons shouldn’t have more influence in local government than those who happen to live in the same community but a little further away from the prison.

Last spring, my organization, the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations, brought more than 300 people to Springfield to lobby for a bill that would have ended the anti-democratic practice of prison-based gerrymandering. We tried to persuade the state government to put an end to unfair redistricting in 2011 before it even got started. The legislature declined to pass the bill, and unless action is taken soon, democracy will suffer all over Illinois in places just like Lawrence County. Lawrence County isn’t unique, either. Of the 40 state prisons, most are located in rural downstate communities.

When legislators use those prison counts to draw state, county or municipal districts, they – unintentionally or not – give extra influence to the district with the prison at the expense of the residents of other districts throughout the state hat have the required number of people. Illinois law bars prisoners from the polls, but crediting them to the wrong districts results in a systematic shift in political power in Illinois.

The Prison Policy Initiative found that 11 of Illinois’ downstate districts include substantial prison populations, and if redrawn, district boundaries would have to change throughout the state. An even larger impact is seen in 4 rural counties, where the prison populations make up 18-25% of a single district, giving the residents of that district more influence on the county board than their neighbors. Peter Wagner has also remarked on the irony that some of the state legislators who support prison-based gerrymandering represent rural counties and cities that have quietly refused to engage in prison-based gerrymandering. When they draw their own districts, these rural counties and cities reject the idea of basing districts on the Census Bureau’s prison counts. Fundamentally, they protect their residents’ voting rights. Representatives in Springfield must be encouraged to follow the lead of these model counties and cities.

Ending the prison miscount gives communities with prisons a better understanding of what’s happening in their backyards, too. If the prisoners were excluded from the census, it’d be clear that Lawrence County actually lost residents. By looking only at the census numbers, it also looks like Lawrence County gained 1,490 African-American residents – but all of those are prisoners. Excluding prisoners from the census counts and ending prison-based gerrymandering helps all of us figure out what’s really going in our communities.

In 2008, the New York Times chronicled prison-based gerrymandering in the small rural town of Anamosa, Iowa, where residents whose town district contained a state penitentiary had 25 times the voting power in local elections as residents in other districts. The problem in Lawrence County, Illinois could be twice as dramatic as that in Iowa. Should the people who live next to Lawrence Correctional Center have nearly 50 times more say in local government than those who live further away from the prison?

The Illinois legislature should pass House Bill 94 to end to the prison miscount. The legislature should do this because it’s fair. It should pass the bill to protect the democratic principle of one person, one vote. They should pass it for those living in Lawrence County, and throughout the state that have the right to equal and fair representation.

Josina Morita is Executive Coordinator of the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations. Last spring, the United Congress organized more than 300 people to go to Springfield and lobby for legislation that would have ended prison-based gerrymandering in the state. The legislature failed to pass the proposed legislation, but the struggle continues.

Alexander Shalom, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, blogs on

by Peter Wagner, March 13, 2011

Alexander Shalom, policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, blogs on

As New Jersey’s legislative redistricting commission meets, it will have to confront this question: How should we count the roughly 22,000 people serving sentences in New Jersey’s state prisons? For years, New Jersey has counted inmates as residents of the municipalities where prisons are located, rather than at their home addresses.

Read his post and check out the New Jersey campaign against prison-based gerrymandering page.

Guide about prison-based gerrymandering for reporters covering county/municipal redistricting in jurisdictions with large prisons

by Peter Wagner, March 10, 2011

We just released a Primer for reporters on county/municipal redistricting & prison-based gerrymandering.

report cover thumbnailThis week and next, our Alternative Spring Break students are reaching out to the reporters who cover local government in counties and cities with large prisons. They are sharing the primer and talking about how the leaders of each community are contending with a very interesting dilemma that is unfolding across the country.

From the introduction:

Who should use this primer: Reporters covering county or municipal redistricting in jurisdictions that contain prisons.

What’s at stake: Counties and cities that contain large prisons must decide if the people who live immediately adjacent to a prison should receive more political influence than everyone else. Prisoners are counted by the Census as residents of the prison location even though they can’t vote and aren’t county residents. More than 100 counties and cities across the country refuse to use prison counts to draw districts; but many others fail to notice the problem.

Will your local government allow an obscure Census Bureau practice to change the outcome of all future legislative decisions?

Please download and share with journalists who you think will find it helpful.

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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