With Governor Brown’s signature, California becomes 4th state to outlaw prison-based gerrymandering

The non-profit non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative hails California Governor Brown for signing AB 420 in to law on Friday.

October 9, 2011

Contact: Peter Wagner (413) 923-8478

The non-profit non-partisan Prison Policy Initiative hails California Governor Brown for signing AB 420 in to law on Friday. The legislation, introduced by Assemblymember Mike Davis, would end the practice of treating incarcerated individuals, for redistricting purposes, as residents of the districts where they are temporarily confined.

The new law will take effect for the 2020 round of redistricting, requiring the Department of Corrections to report the home addresses of incarcerated people to the Citizens Redistricting Commission so that the Commission may count incarcerated people at home for redistricting purposes. The new law is similar to that currently in effect in Maryland and New York, and to a law passed in Delaware to take effect in 2020.

“California is the 4th state to correct a serious flaw in the decennial Census”, said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. The organization has been leading a decade-long effort to to correct the problem of “prison-based gerrymandering” where the legislative districts that contain prisons receive extra political influence and all other districts receive less. Although people in prison can’t vote and are considered by California state law to be residents of their home communities, the Census Bureau counts people in prison as if they were residents of the prison location.

“The Prison Policy Initiative, civil rights groups, and the Census Bureau’s own advisers have urged the Bureau to change where they count people in prison,” said Wagner. The Census Bureau has not yet made this change, so “California joins 3 other states — and more than 100 county and municipal governments — who all deserve credit for developing their own solutions to the Census Bureau’s prison miscount.”

The new law applies only to redistricting and will not affect funding received by communities. The new state law will put California’s method of counting incarcerated people for state legislative redistricting purposes in line with that of the majority of the California counties that have large prisons. Ten of these counties have historically refused to engage in prison-based gerrymandering when drawing their own county districts.

The new law will solve serious electoral inequities in California created by prison-based gerrymandering. The Prison Policy Initiative’s analysis of the districts drawn after the 2000 Census found a state assembly district were 8.6% of the required population was incarcerated people from other parts of the state. Using the prisons to pad this district’s population gave every group of 91 voters in this district the same influence as 100 voters in other districts. Said another way, every voter in every district without a prison had their vote diluted about 9% by prison-based gerrymandering.

Miscounting the prison population caused a similar vote dilutive effect on the districts proposed by the California Redistricting Commission after the 2010 Census. (See the testimony of the Prison Policy Initiative and our colleagues at Dēmos on July 15, 2011.)

“The new law offers California voters a fairer data set on which future districts will be drawn,” said Wagner. “Incarcerated people are legal residents of their homes, not remote prison cells.”


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