California Senate passes bill to end prison-based gerrymandering

Prison Policy Initiative and Demos applaud the California Senate for passing AB 420, a bill to end prison-based gerrymandering.

August 31, 2011

Prison Policy Initiative and Demos Applaud Passage Of Prison Redistricting Legislation By California Senate, Call On State Assembly To Pass Law And Correct Unjust Census Figures

Contact: Peter Wagner, (413) 527-0845,
Anna Pycior,, (212) 389-1408

Demos and the Prison Policy Initiative, two national public policy organizations, applaud the California Senate for passage yesterday of AB 420, a bill to end prison-based gerrymandering. Introduced by Assemblymember Mike Davis, the legislation would end the practice of treating incarcerated individuals as residents of the districts where they are temporarily confined, for redistricting purposes.

This legislation directs the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to report the last known addresses of incarcerated persons to the Secretary of State and the Citizens Redistricting Commission. The data will then be used to count incarcerated individuals as members of their home communities. If passed again by the California Assembly, the new rule would go into effect in the 2020 redistricting cycle.

We applaud the California Senate for recognizing that it is a violation of California state law to continue the state’s practice of counting incarcerated individuals as residents of their prison localities for redistricting purposes,” said Brenda Wright, Democracy Program Director at Demos. “According to the California Election Code, ‘A person does not gain or lose a domicile solely by reason of his or her presence or absence from a place while… kept in an almshouse, asylum or prison,’” Wright added.

“Adding insult to injury, the miscount of incarcerated individuals also violates the fundamental ‘one-person, one-vote’ principle of our democracy. Counting them as residents in prison localities artificially inflates the local population count, allowing districts to be drawn with fewer actual constituents than required. This then impairs the representation of individuals in districts that are not padded by inclusion of a prison population,” said Wright.

The state law called for in AB 420 echoes local practices; most California counties with state prisons omit the prison population from their calculations when drawing county supervisorial districts.

“Most California counties with prisons recognize that incarcerated individuals remain constituents in their home communities,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. “Yesterday the Senate decided that the state’s allocation of incarcerated persons for redistricting purposes should be guided by counties’ sensible approach to the issue,” Wagner added.

According to Wagner, “The California Senate’s action reflects a national trend towards correcting the miscount of incarcerated persons in redistricting. New York, Maryland and Delaware all passed legislation to end prison-based gerrymandering last year.”

“We expect that the U.S. Census Bureau will take note of the growing state trend to end prison-based gerrymandering, and begin counting incarcerated persons as residents of their home communities in the 2020 decennial census,” added Brenda Wright.

Read the legislation here:


2 responses:

  1. I am glad they are doing this. But I also have an idea I wish they would think about.

    Create a new district that is only for CA prisoners. Add a new Assembly member, so they get their proper representation. That rep would be responsible for all 33 CA state prisons and prisoners on parole who still cannot vote. This would be very good for educating the legislators of the needs of prisoners.

    Even when slavery was legal and constitutional, slaves and the Native American Indians were counted, totalled and given 60% representation in Congress. Calif on the other hand, has refused to give any form of representation for prisoners, our defacto indentured slaves. This would still be constitutional, because prisoners are still recognized as being ‘enslaved.’

    1. Peter Wagner says:

      Hi Barbara, The comparison of the current (and about to be changed) process in California to the 3/5ths clause under slavery is extremely apt. True, the slaves were counted as less than a full person, but the real harm was that they were counted in a state/district that had political goals in opposition to their own. That’s where the harm of prison-based gerrymandering comes in: the wrong districts get the clout.

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