Almost half of the state's prison population comes from the state's five largest cities, but almost two-thirds of the state’s prison cells are located in just five small towns.

April 17, 2013

Cover of Imported 'Constituents': Incarcerated People and Political Clout in Connecticut

Contact:
Prison Policy Initiative – Leah Sakala (413) 527-0845
Common Cause in Connecticut – Cheri Quickmire (860) 539-6846

If you don’t live next to a large prison, the General Assembly doesn’t think your vote is worth as much, charges a new report released this morning by the Prison Policy Initiative and Common Cause in Connecticut.

The report, “Imported ‘Constituents’: Incarcerated People and Political Clout in Connecticut,” examines how the state’s reliance on Census Bureau data – which counts incarcerated people as if they were residents of prison locations rather than their home communities — enhances the weight of votes cast in districts that contain prisons and dilutes the weight of a vote cast in all other districts. “About 10% of several Connecticut districts are made up of people who aren’t, by state law, residents of those districts,” said report author Peter Wagner.

The report finds that:

  • Almost half of the state’s prison population comes from the state’s five largest cities, but almost two-thirds of the state’s prison cells are located in just five small towns.
  • There are seven majority-White state house districts that claim at least 1,000 incarcerated people of color as residents of their districts.
  • Connecticut state law says that incarcerated people are residents of their homes, not the prison location.
  • Not all people in Connecticut prisons are barred from voting. Those who can vote – because they are awaiting trial or are not convicted of felonies — are required by state law to vote absentee as residents of their home districts.

The Connecticut Legislature is currently considering a bill, HB 6679, that would remedy the problem of prison gerrymandering by counting incarcerated people at their home addresses for redistricting purposes. “Right now, the Judiciary Committee has before them a bill that would end prison gerrymandering in Connecticut once and for all,” said Cheri Quickmire of Common Cause in Connecticut. “It’s time to pass this legislation and send the message that every Connecticut resident’s vote should count, regardless of whether or not he or she lives near a big prison.”

Four other states — New York, Maryland, Delaware, and California — have already passed similar legislation, and Maryland’s law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

The non-profit Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative is the nation’s leading authority on how Census counts of prison populations distort the legislative redistricting process. For the last decade the organization has been leading a national movement calling on the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people at home, and the organization’s research inspired four states to pass legislation in 2010 and 2011 to end prison gerrymandering.

Common Cause in Connecticut is a nonprofit, nonpartisan citizens lobby dedicated to improving the way state government operates. Whether it is advocating for opening committee meetings to the public or compelling the passage of the strongest campaign finance law in the nation, Common Cause in Connecticut has been a leading voice in reforming state government.

“Imported ‘Constituents’: Incarcerated People and Political Clout in Connecticut,” is available at http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/ct/

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Vigo County will vote to approve a redistricting plan that excludes the incarcerated population at the Terre Haute Federal Correctional Complex.

by Aleks Kajstura, April 10, 2013

Vigo County Indiana is following the lead of its county seat by ending prison gerrymandering. The Tribune Star reports that the Commissioners of Vigo County will approve a redistricting plan that excludes the incarcerated population at the Terre Haute Federal Correctional Complex.

Redistricting is generally required every decade to ensure that the residents are equally divided among the County Council districts, but Vigo County failed to redistrict for two decades. By the 2010 Census the districts had significant population differences. The County was finally pushed to taking action in response to a suit filed by a local resident with the help of the ACLU of Indiana.

In taking this opportunity to redistrict, the County also addressed its prison gerrymandering problem. The incarcerated population counted at the federal prison complex would have made up 13% of District 4 if it had been included in the redistricting data, undermining the County’s attempt to draw fair districts with equal populations.
County Attorney Michael Wright explained the County’s solution:

“Once we declare that we are not considering the federal penitentiary’s population for purposes of calculation, the proposed plan would bring the precincts with one and a third percent of each other in terms of population.”

When the districts are finalized by an upcoming Council vote, Vigo County will join the Indiana cities of Terre Haute and Crown Point as well as over 200 other local governments nationwide in ensuring equal representation by avoiding prison gerrymandering.


The Connecticut Joint Committee on Judiciary heard testimony in support of legislation to count incarcerated people at home for redistricting purposes.

by Leah Sakala, April 2, 2013

Will Connecticut be the next state to bring an end to prison gerrymandering?

Peter Wagner testifies in support of HB 6679

Yesterday Peter testified before the Connecticut Legislature’s Joint Committee on Judiciary in support of HB 6679, a bill that would end prison gerrymandering by requiring incarcerated people to be counted at their home addresses for redistricting purposes (you can watch Peter’s testimony at CT-N starting at 5 hours 38 minutes).

Leah Aden of the NAACP LDF submitted testimony in support of the bill, and David McGuire of the ACLU of Connecticut testified in support as well.

Our allies at Common Cause in Connecticut have been instrumental in getting this issue on the legislature’s agenda, and there’s a broad base of support from the public and the press for ending prison gerrymandering in Connecticut. Editorial boards such as the Hartford Courant and the Norwich Bulletin have called on the legislature to pass legislation like that in New York, Maryland, Delaware, and California to ensure that the Census Bureau’s method of tabulating prison populations doesn’t skew democracy in Connecticut.



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