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One Wyoming district is moved 17 miles to include a prison; padding one district with a large prison protects two incumbents from facing each other.

by Peter Wagner, March 4, 2012

Joan Barron writes in today’s Casper Star-Tribune about the most blatant case of prison-based gerrymandering I have ever seen: a Wyoming Senate district that snakes around an incumbents house and then follows the Nebraska border for 17 miles to snag a prison. The initial proposed districts had the two incumbents facing each for re-election, but using the prison to pad one district shifted the other incumbent into a separate district.

Map of 17 mile prison-based gerrymander in Wyoming, 2012
Graphic by Bob Machuga

I typically write about the problem of prison-based gerrymandering in terms of vote dilution. The shape of the prison district is problematic, but is separate from that issue.

In our analysis, we found several new Wyoming legislative districts that meet federal minimum population requirements only by using prison populations as padding. The prison population can’t vote, and by state law they retain their pre-incarceration residences. Counting incarcerated people in the wrong location gives extra political influence to the districts with prisons, and dilutes the votes of residents who live in any other district.

The truly unique part about prison-based gerrymandering in Wyoming is how blatant it is. In order to increase his chances for re-election, Senator Meier insisted that his house be shifted to another district. The captive population at the Wyoming Medium Correctional Institution made the perfect inert ballast to shore up the district his house previously was in.

Besides prison finger’s funny shape, the legislature’s other major redistricting controversy was about which counties were split. Keeping communities together makes a lot of sense, and that principle applies to prison populations too. That’s why four states have passed laws to count incarcerated people at home for redistricting purposes. It doesn’t make sense to use prison populations to pad out any one district when their real residences are in other parts of the state.

Most state and local governments are moving towards ending prison-based gerrymandering. Wyoming’s new maps buck that trend and deliberately go the other way. Wyoming will get some ridicule for the funny finger shaped district; but the real losers are every resident of the state who does not live next to a large prison.


One judge calls our amici brief "particularly impressive and persuasive".

December 27, 2011

On Friday, Dec 23, a federal three-judge panel rejected a lawsuit seeking to overturn Maryland’s landmark “No Representation Without Population Act,” which counts incarcerated people as residents of their legal home addresses for redistricting purposes.

The Maryland law addressed a long-standing problem in the federal Census that counts incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, even though they cannot vote and retain their pre-incarcerated residences. For decades, using unadjusted Census data diluted the vote of every Maryland resident who did not live near the prison complex in western Maryland, and had a particularly negative effect on African-American communities that experience disproportionate rates of incarceration.

The Judges note that the No Representation Without Population Act they upheld was an important Maryland civil rights victory: “As the amicus brief … makes clear, the Act was the product of years of work by groups dedicated to advancing the interests of minorities.” (p. 20)

Other versions of Maryland’s law have since passed in New York, Delaware and California. Maryland was the only state to apply its law to congressional redistricting, and the first state to complete the process after passing a law. The Judges’ ruling that the law was properly passed and fairly implemented will encourage other states to pass similar laws and will hopefully encourage the Census Bureau to make their own changes in where incarcerated people are counted.

The Court issued its ruling late on the Friday before closing for the Christmas weekend, and just three days after a hearing on the evidence and oral arguments on Tuesday. The Court had promised a decision by the end of January, but quickly concluded that the lawsuit was without merit. The case, Fletcher v. Lamone, was a Republican-backed lawsuit that challenged the congressional plan proposed by the Democratic governor of Maryland. The suit raised claims of partisan gerrymandering and racial discrimination against African-Americans. Three of the claims attacked the No Representation Without Population Act as part of that otherwise unrelated lawsuit.

The Prison Policy Initiative, along with our colleagues at the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, the ACLU of Maryland, the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, Somerset County Branch of the NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Dēmos submitted a friend of the court brief to make it clear to the court that the No Representation Without Population Act was protective of minority voting rights. (Our brief did not address the other claims in the lawsuit.) Judge Williams, in his concurring opinion, called our brief “particularly impressive and persuasive.” (p. 49)

The Court upheld the state’s congressional districting plan on all counts. While most of the 55-page opinion concerned other claims, considerable treatment was given to the No Representation Without Population Act.

The Court explained the law and its rationale:

  • Quoting the state’s summary, “the Act is intended to ‘correct for the distortional effects of the Census Bureau’s practice of counting prisoners as residents of their place of incarceration.” The court then goes on to explain:

    “These distortional effects stem from the fact that while the majority of the state’s prisoners come from African-American areas, the state’s prisons are located primarily in the majority white First and Sixth Districts. As a result, residents of districts with prisons are systematically ‘overrepresented’ compared to other districts. In other words, residents of districts with prisons are able to elect the same number of representatives despite in reality having comparatively fewer voting-eligible members of their community.” (p. 9)

  • The Court noted the critical importance of ending prison-based gerrymandering in local redistricting where the impact of a single prison can be the majority of a district. The Court discussed the infamous Somerset County example where a county commission district intended to be majority African-American was unable to elect an African-American for decades because the district contained a large prison and the African-American voting population of the district was too small to elect a candidate of African-American voters’ choice. (p. 9)

The Court explained that states are not required to blindly use the Census for redistricting purposes:

  • Federal law requires Congressional districts to be exactly equal in population, but does not prohibit states from making improvements to the federal census data in establishing that population base. Federal case law allows adjustments to the data used for congressional districts. Although Census data is presumed to be a good starting point, the data can be adjusted to correct for flaws. These adjustments, however, may not be done in “a haphazard, inconsistent, or conjectural manner.” (pp. 12-13)
  • The Court found that The No Representation Without Population Act and its implementation by the Maryland Planning Department meets the standard, writing:

    “The question remains whether Maryland’s adjustments to census data were made in the systematic manner demanded by Karcher. It seems clear to us that they were. As required by the regulations implementing the Act, … [the Maryland Department of Planning] undertook and documented a multistep process by which it attempted to identify the last known address of all individuals in Maryland’s prisons…. This process is a far cry from the ‘haphazard, inconsistent, or conjectural’ alterations the Supreme Court rejected in Karcher.” (pp. 16-17)

Because the No Representation Without Population Act was found to satisfy even the stricter standards applicable to congressional districts, the opinion bodes well for the constitutionality of similar laws that apply to state legislative and local redistricting, where governmental discretion to make adjustments in Census data is even clearer.

The Court addressed several other issues that come up frequently in discussions about ending prison-based gerrymandering:

  • Improving how incarcerated people are counted does not necessitate improving how other groups are counted. Plaintiffs criticized the state for reallocating incarcerated people to their homes, but not doing the same for members of the military or students in dorms. The Court called the assumption that these populations are all similarly situated to be “questionable at best.” The court explains:

    “College students and members of the military are eligible to vote, while incarcerated persons are not. In addition, college students and military personnel have the liberty to interact with members of the surrounding community and to engage fully in civic life. In this sense, both groups have a much more substantial connection to, and effect on, the communities where they reside than do prisoners.” (p.18)

  • States should improve redistricting data where possible, even if it cannot be made perfect. For example, plaintiffs criticized the state’s reallocation because not all incarcerated people return to their exact prior address. The Court ruled:

    “Because some correction is better than no correction, the State’s adjusted data will likewise be more accurate than the information contained in the initial census reports, which does not take prisoners’ community ties into account at all.” (pp.18-19)

  • The Court found that “although the Census Bureau was not itself willing to undertake the steps required to count prisoners at their home addresses, it has supported efforts by States to do so,” quoting the Census Bureau Director’s explanation that the new Advance Group Quarters data would

    “enable states ‘to leave the prisoners counted where the prisons are, delete them from redistricting formulas, or assign them to some other locale.'” (p. 16)

The Court also addressed the main impetus for our brief, namely the plaintiff’s bizarre implication that a law passed with the intent of improving African-American voting rights somehow diluted African-American votes:

“Our review of the record reveals no evidence that intentional racial classifications were the moving force behind the passage of the Act. In fact, the evidence before us points to precisely the opposite conclusion.” (p.19)



New York Supreme Court Justice Eugene Devine today upheld New York's law ending prison-based gerrymandering in the Little v. LATFOR lawsuit.

December 2, 2011

Victory for Civil Rights, Fair Representation Removes Any Doubt That Redistricting Body Can Proceed Under New Law

For Immediate Release: Dec. 2, 2011

Please Contact:
Brennan Center for Justice Andrew Goldston (646) 292-8372 andrew.goldston@nyu.edu
Center for Law & Social Justice April Silver (718) 756-8501 pr@akilaworksongs.com
Dēmos Anna Pycior (212) 389-1408 apycior@demos.org
LatinoJustice Madeline Friedman (212) 739-7581 mfriedman@latinojustice.org
NAACP Legal Defense Fund Mel Gagarin (212) 965-2783 mgagarin@naacpldf.org
NYCLU Michael Cummings (212) 607-3300 x368 mcummings@nyclu.org
Prison Policy Initiative Peter Wagner (413) 527-0845

Albany, NY – New York Supreme Court Justice Eugene Devine today upheld New York’s law ending prison-based gerrymandering in the Little v. LATFOR lawsuit. His decision squarely rejects the plaintiffs’ claim that the New York law violated various provisions of the New York State Constitution.

Attorneys for the fifteen voters from around New York State who joined the suit as intervenor-defendants issued the following joint statement:

By eliminating the political distortion caused by prison-based gerrymandering, the new law upheld by today’s decision will ensure fairer representation for all New Yorkers, starting with this year’s redistricting.

Judge Devine’s decision affirms what we have known from the beginning: the law ending prison-based gerrymandering advances fairness in redistricting and is in complete agreement with New York’s state constitution. Now that Justice Devine has made his decision, we look forward to seeing LATFOR implement the new law in the coming months.

The organizations representing the fifteen voters in court were the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Law & Social Justice, Dēmos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Prison Policy Initiative. In today’s ruling rejecting Plaintiffs’ legal challenge, the Court repeatedly cited the organizations’ arguments explaining the policies and legal precedent supporting New York’s law.

On Aug. 4, Judge Devine granted the fifteen voters permission to intervene and defend the law. The defendants in the lawsuit were government bodies charged with carrying out the new law: the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), and the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). The New York State Attorney General’s office is representing DOCCS.

The new law, known as “Part XX,” requires that incarcerated persons be allocated to their home communities for state and local redistricting and reapportionment but does not affect funding distributions. This tracks with the New York State Constitution’s explicit provision that incarceration does not change one’s residence.

New York State Senator Elizabeth Little and a group of co-plaintiffs sought to restore New York’s former practice, which artificially inflated the voting strength of select communities at the expense of all others by allocating incarcerated persons to the districts where prisons are located, rather than to their home addresses.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll reported that public opinion is against prison-based gerrymandering, with a majority of New York State voters agreeing that “prison inmates should be counted as residents of their home districts, not of where they’re imprisoned.” The poll found that majorities of voters from both parties, and majorities of both upstate and downstate voters, favored “counting inmates in their homes, not their prisons.”

About Prison-Based Gerrymandering

There are dramatic examples of prison-based gerrymandering in upstate counties and cities. For example, half of a council ward in the city of Rome, New York is incarcerated. As a result, the actual residents of that ward wield twice the influence of other city residents. Recognizing the distortions caused by prison-based gerrymandering at the local level, 13 New York counties with large prisons – including four in plaintiff Senator Little’s district – have historically exercised their discretion to remove the prison populations prior to redistricting.

Continue reading →


This memo discusses several ways that Tennessee counties could harmonize the federal “one person one vote” principle with the unique requirements of the State Constitution.

by Peter Wagner and Aleks Kajstura, September 26, 2011

The most dramatic instances of prison-based gerrymandering tend to be in rural counties that have large prisons, because a single state or federal prison can be the majority of a small county board district. The common solution used by more than 100 counties and municipalities is to remove the prison populations prior to redistricting. In most cases, this solution is permitted by law: Federal law gives local governments the right to determine the population base for their districts, and most state laws are silent on the question.

The operative word is “most.” Many of the most dramatic examples of prison-based gerrymandering are clustered in states where local governments have a little less flexibility when redistricting: notably Virginia, Wisconsin and the subject of this memo, Tennessee.

At the National Conference of State Legislatures in August, I met Tom Fleming, Director of the Office of Local Government within the Tennessee Comptroller’s office. He and I were attending the same session where the Census Bureau was soliciting feedback on the effectiveness of the Redistricting Data Program. After the session, he and I spoke about how the issue of prison-based gerrymandering effects Tennessee counties, and I offered to prepare a briefing memo on some possible solutions to the problem for this round of redistricting. That memo is below.


To: Tom Fleming
From: Peter Wagner and Aleks Kajstura, Prison Policy Initiative
Date: August 23, 2011
Re: Prison-based Gerrymandering in Tennessee Counties

This memo discusses the impact of the Census Bureau’s decision to count incarcerated people as residents of the prison location on Boards of County Commissioners districts in Tennessee, and discusses several ways that counties could harmonize the federal “one person one vote” principle with the unique requirements of the Tennessee State Constitution.

Introduction to the Problem

Every decade, counties in Tennessee, and across the nation, redistrict their Boards of County Commissioners to ensure equal representation in county government as required by U.S. Supreme Court precedent. When each district contains the same population, each member of the community is afforded equal representation. This undertaking, however, is vulnerable to any flaws in the data on which redistricting relies. There is a longstanding flaw in the Census that counts incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, even though almost all are barred from voting [1] and are not legal residents of the surrounding community.[2] When district population counts rely on incarcerated populations, people who live close to the prison are given more of a say in government than everybody else. The practice of using prison populations to dilute the votes of other residents is referred to as “prison-based gerrymandering.”

One of the most dramatic examples in the nation that was created after the 2000 Census was in Lake County Tennessee where 88% of the population in County Commissioner District 1 was not local residents, but incarcerated people counted in the Northwest Correctional Complex. This gave every group of 3 residents in District 1 as much say in county affairs as 25 residents in other districts. Nine other counties in Tennessee saw dramatic instances of prison-based gerrymandering, as seen in this table, from the Prison Policy Initiative report Phantom Constituents in Tennessee’s Boards of County Commissioners:[3]

Figure 1. The ten most dramatic cases of vote dilution in Tennessee caused by relying on Census Bureau prison counts when drawing Board of County Commissioners districts after the 2000 Census.
County Most distorted district Prison in district Prison population (2000) Vote enhancement
Bledsoe District 1 Southeastern Tennessee State Regional Correctional Facility 969 34.70%
Davidson District 20 Middle Tennessee Correctional Complex (now called the Charles Bass Correctional Complex), Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, and Lois M. DeBerry Special Needs Facility 2,569 15.40%
Hardeman District 3 Whiteville Correctional Facility- CCA and Hardeman County Correctional Center 3,377 58.70%
Hickman District 1 Turney Center Industrial Prison and Farm 1,106 33.40%
Johnson District 5 Northeastern Correctional Complex 1,299 38.30%
Lake District 1 Northwest Correctional Complex 1,799 87.60%
Lauderdale District 5 Western Tennessee State Penitentiary 2,346 69.30%
Morgan n/a Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex 1,536 47.00%
Tipton District 7 Tipton County Western Tennessee Detention Facility 527 9.50%
Wayne District 2 South Central Correctional Facility and Wayne County Boot Camp 1,894 78.90%

The Tennessee State Constitution may prohibit the most obvious solution

The U.S. Constitution requires counties to redistrict each decade, but in most states counties are free to choose which populations to include in the population base used to draw the districts. A few states require local governments to exclude prison populations when redistricting,[4] and more than 100 counties and municipalities around the country independently choose to remove the prison populations when drawing local legislative districts.[5] To assist counties in this process, the Census Bureau recently decided to produce the Advance Group Quarters Table to make the process easier.

Continue reading →


This is the first of a series of posts that tell the story of how PPI grew as an organization and built a national movement to end prison-based gerrymandering.

by Peter Wagner, September 14, 2011

The Prison Policy Initiative was founded 10 years ago today with the goal of turning my academic research on what we now call prison-based gerrymandering into a national discussion of how prison counts impact redistricting. We’ve come a long way! In this and subsequent posts, I wanted to tell the story of how the Prison Policy Initiative grew as an organization and built a national movement to end prison-based gerrymandering.

Ten years ago, I was in law school wrapping up an almost year long independent study project with Professor Jim Gardner that linked felon disenfranchisement to what we now call prison-based gerrymandering. My paper, “Prisoner disenfranchisement and state legislative redistricting in New York State: Electoral appropriation and the return of the 3/5ths clause” had the potential to change how our electoral system works, but it needed an audience.

I, along with UMass PhD candidate Stephen Healy and Smith College student Sarah Kowalski, founded the Prison Policy Initiative ten years ago, building a platform to transition my academic paper into a policy paper. Six months later, I was testifying before the New York State legislature telling them about prison-based gerrymandering and urging them to start the redistricting process over with better data that met the state’s constitutional definition of residence. The legislature ignored me at the time, but nine years later, the legislature took our advice.

Over the course of 7 months, we turned my academic paper into what the Prison Policy Initiative eventually released as Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout. The biggest challenge we faced was learning how to explain the connections between the Census, redistricting, disenfranchisement and vote dilution in an accessible way. In an encounter that would change our strategy forever, we got a huge boost from a trained communicator in the media.

While Stephen, Sarah and I were working on the report, the Sentencing Project’s Marc Mauer introduced me to Jonathan Tilove, then a correspondent for Newhouse News Service covering race and immigration, who was doing a feature-length piece about how Census counts affect districting. I shared my academic paper with Jonathan and spent hours discussing it with him. He wrote an article that’s still timely today: “Minority Prison Inmates Skew Local Populations as States Redistrict,” which linked the impact of what we now call prison-based gerrymandering on state level redistricting to the impact on county and municipal redistricting.

Prior to Jonathan’s article, explaining my research used to take hours. His piece helped us succinctly explain who benefits from prison-based gerrymandering. For example, in a single clear sentence Jonathan powerfully summarized one concept that used to take me 15 minutes to explain. Many of the innovations in Jonathan’s article informed how we constructed our “Importing Constituents” report, and its discussion of intra-rural impacts inspired our strategy for the next decade.

Continue reading →


It's time to pay attention to the lessons we learned 40 years ago from the Attica prison rebellion, and recognize the critical differences between where prisoners come from and where they are confined.

by Rose Heyer and Peter Wagner, September 13, 2011

Forty years ago, thousands of people confined at the Attica prison in rural New York State rebelled, taking control of D-yard. The media was invited in to see the conditions and observe negotiations, so the whole world was watching when, forty years ago today, Governor Rockefeller ordered an assault on the prison, turning what was then the largest prison rebellion into the bloodiest. Forty-three people died, almost all from state police gunfire.

The rebellion and the investigation into its causes caused a fundamental reexamination of correctional policy throughout America, but the difficulties the state had in reforming Attica itself offers a powerful lens on the central role of geography and race in criminal justice policy.

Forty years ago, 63% of the people incarcerated at Attica were Black or Latino, but at that time there were no Blacks and only one Latino serving as guards. The prison population was 70% urban, mostly from New York City, but 80% of the guards were from rural New York.

The racial disparity between the keepers and the kept increased tensions at Attica, and gave Black and Latino prisoners a painful daily reminder that justice isn’t colorblind.

Many of the rebellion’s demands were common sense improvements to food, mail policies and rehabilitative programs, and were implemented nationwide in the years that followed. But the critical demand for more Black and Latino staff proved to be the most difficult to implement. The problem was not the hiring practices of the prisons, it was the locations of the prisons themselves. As leading scholar William Nagel explained shortly after the rebellion: “To avoid a federal Attica, the Federal Bureau of Prisons is now feverishly attempting to recruit black staff, but its task is complicated by the remoteness of its facilities.”

While existing prisons themselves are impossible to move, this lesson of Attica about the dangers of staff disparities was lost in the rush of the late 1980s and 1990s to build more prisons. Speculative ideas about rural economic development trumped safe and rehabilitative correctional policy. Two-thirds of new prisons were built in rural areas, despite the experience at Attica and despite research showing that keeping an incarcerated person close to home increases family visits and reduces the odds of recidivism or a return to prison. Thus, despite, a consensus that prisons should hire more Black and Latino staff, progress has been limited.

By 2005, (the latest year with complete comparative data), the incarcerated population at Attica had increased to 77% Black and Latino. But out of a total staff of 859, the number of blacks had only risen to 12 and the Latino staff to 9. Attica’s staff remains overwhelmingly white because Attica itself has not moved. Attica remains located in a rural, overwhelmingly white region of New York State.

Attica’s staffing pattern is dramatic, but nationally, it’s not atypical. The fact that Blacks and Latinos make up 57% of the nation’s incarcerated population but hold only 28% of the correctional jobs is further proof that the bulk of the nation’s prisons are still in communities that are very different than the communities that incarcerated people come from.

In part, these facts show how the prison system’s wild growth undermined its own goals. But from the perspective of voting rights, they tell a larger story about how mass incarceration dilutes the votes of individual Blacks and Latinos who don’t have any direct contact with the criminal justice system.

Continue reading →


The original U.S. Constitution used enslaved people to grant extra political clout to the states with lots of slaves, shifting the balance of power. This dynamic has a contemporary parallel.

by Leah Sakala, September 9, 2011

Rep. Roys

I was recently watched some striking footage of a Wisconsin Assembly hearing from September, 2009, about Assembly Joint Resolution 63 to exclude incarcerated persons from redistricting data. The video begins with a discussion of how to count incarcerated people in Wisconsin, but then quickly turns into a heated debate about how prison-based gerrymandering relates to our nation’s conflicted history with the concepts of personhood and equal representation. To me, the fact the conversation veered into such fundamental questions shows how sometimes the solutions to prison-based gerrymandering can be counterintuitive.

Here’s why:

When incarcerated people are counted as residents of the district in which they are incarcerated, the actual residents of that district get undue additional political clout and the voters who live everwhere else lose out. The ideal solution is to completely solve the problem by counting incarcerated people at their home addresses. But, although it may sound strange at first, the second best option is for incarcerated populations to be removed from redistricting data altogether. The video I watched was about this second approach. Wisconsin 2009 Assembly Joint Resolution 63 sponsored by Representative Fred Kessler proposed to remove prison counts from Wisconsin’s redistricting data.

But this idea didn’t sit well with Representative Kleefisch. Given the United States racially disproportionate incarceration rates and pernicious history of denying racial minorities their civil rights, he asked, doesn’t the proposal to exclude prisoners from redistricting counts hark back to the infamous practice of denying certain individuals their full personhood?

Representative Kelda Helen Roys responded to this question by drawing an apt historical connection to the infamous 1787 constitutional clause that counted each slave as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of Congressional redistricting, even though they were denied the right to vote. The three-fifths clause had the effect of using slave population numbers to artificially beef up the political power of the Southern, white, property-owning voters who were invested in maintaining and expanding the slave system. But the problem with the three-fifths clause wasn’t that the slaves were counted as only a fraction of a person. After all, since their “political clout” went right into the hands of the very people who exploited them, the political distortion would have been even greater had they been counted as full people. The problem was that slave populations were used to artificially inflate the political power of the very same people who went to great lengths to deny them their right to personal sovereignty, much less their right to vote.

When a government engages in prison-based gerrymandering, incarcerated people, who disproportionately come from minority and urban communities, are stripped of their right to vote but still included in the population counts of the disproportionately white districts in which they are incarcerated. Their political clout is essentially handed through the bars to the real residents of the community that contains the prison, giving certain people more political say simply by virtue of their residential proximity to a large prison. This also gives the legislators who represent districts that include prisons the power to use incarcerated people’s bodies to count against their own interests by supporting punitive criminal justice legislation, as such representatives are utterly free from accountability to their non-voting “constituents” behind bars.

It’s just as unfair as it sounds. And Representative Roys’s observation about the connection between prison-based gerrymandering and the three-fifths clause isn’t abstract history. Let’s look at a contemporary example.

Continue reading →


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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Peter Wagner, , (413) 527-0845,
Anna Pycior, apycior@demos.org, (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.

Continue reading →


Majorities of both parties, in upstate and downstate New York, say that prison inmates should be counted as residents of their home districts.

by Peter Wagner, August 17, 2011

A Quinnipiac University poll released last week reported that New York State

voters say 60 – 25 percent that prison inmates should be counted as residents of their home districts, not of where they’re imprisoned. Republican and upstate voters support counting inmates in their homes, not their prisons.

The poll was conducted from August 3 – 8, with 1,640 registered voters. The margin of error was +/- 2.4 percentage points.

On August 4, New York’s redistricting task force announced — finally — that it would comply with state law and count incarcerated people at their home addresses. Nine state senators, however, are still suing to overturn the law.


New districts in Wisconsin to set new records for prison-based gerrymandering.

by Peter Wagner, July 18, 2011

The Wisconsin legislature is rushing through a redistricting plan so they can lock in the maps before the scheduled recall elections can change who has the power to draw district lines. In that rush, prison-based gerrymandering is poised to have an even greater impact on state, county and municipal districts than it did a decade ago.

The Census Bureau counts Wisconsin prisoners as if they were residents of the communities where they are incarcerated, even though they can’t vote and remain legal residents of the places they lived prior to incarceration. Crediting thousands of people to other communities has staggering implications for Wisconsin’s democracy, which uses the Census to apportion political power on the basis of equally-sized state and county legislative districts.

Wisconsin’s 53rd Assembly district has the highest concentration of prisons in the state. The 53rd District claims 5,583 incarcerated people as residents of the district, even though state law says that incarcerated people remain residents of their homes. All districts send some people to prison, although some districts send more than others. But not all districts have prisons, and concentrating 23,000 prisoners in a handful of districts enhances the weight of a vote cast in those districts and dilutes all votes cast elsewhere.

In Wisconsin, this impact is largest in District 53, where without using prison populations as padding, the district would be 10% below the required size. This gives every 90 residents of the 53rd district the same influence as 100 residents of any other district in the state.

If that seems insignificant, consider that the Supreme Court allows districts to have populations that are 5% too large or small if the state can protect some other legitimate state interest by doing so. The federal judges who have for decades drawn Wisconsin’s state legislative districts have had an even higher standard, allowing only a 1% deviation from strict population equality. The Republican majority of the legislature which drew the new districts took an even higher standard in the Assembly, drawing districts that are, by Census counts, no more than 0.4% too large or small.

Continue reading →




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