Ten years ago today: PPI tells NY legislature to start over, avoid prison-based gerrymandering

PPI made its public debut ten years ago, and the movement to end prison-based gerrymandering has come a long way since!

by Peter Wagner, March 14, 2012

The Prison Policy Initiative had its first public debut ten years ago today, when I showed up at a redistricting hearing in the Bronx and told the committee to scrap their proposed maps and start over with a new dataset that counted incarcerated people at their true, home addresses. Prison populations shouldn’t be used to dilute the votes of people who do not live next to prisons. The public was intrigued by my testimony, but at that point the legislature didn’t take my advice.

Fast forward a decade: four states have ended prison-based gerrymandering. New York and Maryland have passed laws to count people in prison at home for this round of redistricting, and both states’ laws were successfully defended in court. Delaware and California passed legislation that will take effect after the next Census in 2020. The Census Bureau continued to count incarcerated people in the wrong place, but in 2010 they made an important change. They published the prison count data earlier than ever before, so that redistricting bodies would have the technical ability to avoid or minimize prison-based gerrymandering if they wished.

In that intervening decade, we worked to put numbers on the problem, develop solutions, and recruit civil rights, criminal justice and good government groups into a large movement for reform at the local, state and federal levels. Together, we’ve permanently changed how our democracy works in 4 states and hundreds of counties; and we’ve set our sights on a permanent national solutions.

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