Shorts archives

Grits for Breakfast argues that Texas should follow its local governments' pragmatic approach to redistricting and avoid prison gerrymandering.

by Aleks Kajstura, December 10, 2013

One thing I didn’t mention in yesterday’s post about Jonathan Tilove’s article is the coverage it received at the Texas criminal justice blog, Grits for Breakfast: Rural counties treat prisoners as political footballs when drawing electoral districts.

The whole post is worth a read for its frank analysis of Texas’ state and county politics surrounding prison gerrymandering, but its conclusion summarized the state’s failure to end prison gerrymandering best:

…as long as the topic is considered through the lens of state-level partisanship instead of county-level pragmatism, changing it in the near future would be an uphill climb.


Civil rights and good government groups are showing a lot of enthusiasm for ending prison gerrymandering in Ohio. In November, I presented our research to stakeholders and....

by Peter Wagner, December 5, 2013

Civil rights, civic engagement, and good government groups are showing a lot of enthusiasm for ending prison gerrymandering in Ohio. On Friday Nov 22, I flew out to Columbus Ohio to present our research on how the Census Bureau’s decision to count incarcerated people as residents of the correctional facilities and not of their homes distorts democracy in Ohio. During the presentation, I told the stories of how Maryland and New York built a movement to pass their first-in-the-nation laws ending prison gerrymandering.

Greg Moore of the NAACP National Voter Fund and Deidra Reese of Ohio Voice then led a discussion about next steps. There was a lot of enthusiasm in the room, and I’m looking forward to working with the groups in the near future on a successful campaign in Ohio. Stay tuned to this blog, and to our new Ohio campaign page for more information as it develops.

Greg Moore and Deidre Reese leading a discussion about ending prison gerrymandering in Ohio on November 22, 2013.

Greg Moore and Deidra Reese (center) leading a discussion about ending prison gerrymandering in Ohio on November 22, 2013.(Photo: Petee Talley)


Massachusetts Resolution S 309/H 3185 passed joint House and Senate Election Laws committee, moves on to the committee on Rules.

by Aleks Kajstura, October 22, 2013

A Massachusetts resolution (S309/H3185) urging the Census Bureau to end prison gerrymandering by counting incarcerated people at their home addresses just passed out of the Joint Committee on Election Laws. In March, the Prison Policy Initiative joined other supporters to testify before the committee in support of the resolution.

The resolution now heads to the Joint Committee on Rules.


The federal government, in the form of the Census Bureau, is permitting states and counties all over the country to undermine the "one person, one vote" concept.

by Peter Wagner, October 8, 2013

A new blog post by Andrew Cohen at the Brennan Center for Justice reviews the struggle to end prison gerrymandering, adding some great historical context:

Fifty years ago, in two vital cases you don’t hear much about anymore, the United States Supreme Court set forth a “one person, one vote” standard for legislative redistricting that we all think we live under today….

Now let’s jump ahead half a century for a lesson in how even the Court’s noblest endeavors can be undermined by practical realities. The federal government, in the form of the Census Bureau, is permitting states and counties all over the country to undermine the “one person, one vote” concept.

His piece then goes on to discuss some of the new developments in the movement to ensure that the Census Bureau listens to the state and local governments that are calling for a national end to prison gerrymandering, and agrees to tabulate incarcerated people as reidents of their home communities in the next census.

Thanks, Andrew!

(For more of Andrew’s great updates and reporting on criminal justice issues, follow him on Twitter, and check out the other pieces he’s written for the Brennan Center for Justice and for The Atlantic.)


"[Prison gerrymandering] distorts the political process and raises concerns about the fairness of the census process itself."

by Leah Sakala, September 27, 2013

Thumbnail of New York Times editorial

The New York Times published a strong editorial today calling on the Census Bureau to end prison gerrymandering by tabulating incarcerated people at their home addresses in 2020:

[Prison gerrymandering] distorts the political process and raises concerns about the fairness of the census process itself. That’s reason enough for the bureau to solve this problem now.


Tom Condon wrote a wonderful column for today’s Hartford Courant on why it’s time for the Connecticut legislature to pass a bill ending prison gerrymandering.

by Leah Sakala, May 9, 2013

Hartford Courant Column

Tom Condon wrote a wonderful column for today’s Hartford Courant on why it’s time for the Connecticut legislature to pass a bill ending prison gerrymandering. Here’s an excerpt (although the full piece is absolutely worth a read):

From the perspective of fairness and democracy, prisoners should be counted in their towns of residence. To see why, look at the Connecticut General Assembly in the early 1960s. State representatives were allocated by town — one for towns under 5,000 in population and two for towns with more than 5,000. So as my late and great friend Judge Robert Satter observed, the rural towns of Union and Hartland, with 1,440 residents between them, had the same number of representatives as did Hartford, which then had more than 162,000 souls. Thus, small rural towns could dominate large cities.

Such undemocratic malapportionment here and across the country led to the series of court cases espousing the “one man, one vote” rulings ordering that voting districts be apportioned on the basis of population — districts with roughly the same number of people.

But in Connecticut, most inmates cannot vote, and those who can — those who’ve not yet been sentenced or are in stir for a misdemeanor — must vote by absentee ballot in their towns of residence. So, we again have a form of malapportionment, what Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative calls “prison gerrymandering.”


Nancy Scola makes a compelling case for prioritizing prison-based gerrymandering on the national agenda.

by Leah Sakala, October 23, 2012

Nancy Scola makes a compelling case for prioritizing prison-based gerrymandering on the national agenda in her new American Prospect piece, “Making Prisoners Count.” She writes:

In an era obsessed with political data—Microtargeting! Swing-state polling! Data.gov!—and in a country where we incarcerate people at a higher rate than anywhere else in the world, thinking through the political counting of prisoners calls for the same enthusiasm, because the way we do it now corrupts the very equations upon which representative democracy is built.

Nancy goes on to explain how the Census Bureau’s practice of counting incarcerated people at prison locations unfairly boosts representation in communities with prisons, drains political power from communities that experience disproportionate incarceration rates, and creates perverse criminal justice policy incentives by giving elected officials a vested interest in expanding the prison industrial complex.

She concludes by observing that this issue is more pressing now than ever:

How the U.S. counts its prisoners might be a historical data quirk, but with the U.S. prison population now counted by the millions, it’s a quirk that skews how representative democracy operates.

Wondering how the Census Bureau’s prison count skews your vote? Check out our research results about your state or local government. Then take action and join us in solving the problem.


by Aleks Kajstura, September 14, 2012

The governor of California just signed a bill (AB 1986) into law that improves California’s historic law ending prison based gerrymandering.

The LA Times has some coverage of the new bill along with some of the other bills signed.


Western Massachusetts newspaper reports that state lawmakers are looking for ways to end prison-based gerrymandering.

by Peter Wagner, July 27, 2012

thumbnailMassachusetts is headed in the right direction towards ending prison-based gerrymandering, reports a new feature in the Valley Advocate.

“The way the Census Bureau counts people in prison creates significant problems for democracy and for our nation’s future,” in the words of the Prison Policy Initiative, a think tank based in Easthampton. This “prison-based gerrymandering,” PPI says, “leads to a dramatic distortion of representation at local and state levels, and creates an inaccurate picture of community populations for research and planning purposes.”

PPI and other groups have been pushing to change that system for years, and it appears they now have some powerful allies on their side—among them, state Sen. Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst), the Senate’s president pro tempore and co-chair of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Redistricting. “The whole point of redistricting and the whole point of our system is, we all have equal representation,” Rosenberg told the Advocate. By counting incarcerated people who, by law, are not able to vote in the districts where they’re locked up, he explains, “you are creating disproportionate voting power in those districts among those people who are eligible to vote.” In light of that inequity, Rosenberg said, it just makes sense for the census to change the way it counts prisoners.

Read the rest of the great article on newsstands throughout Western Massachusetts this week or on the Valley Advocate’s website: Prisoners Count: Lawmakers look at fixing Massachusetts’ “representation without population” problem.


In the next legislative session Rep. La Shawn K. Ford will reintroduce legislation to count incarcerated people at home for redistricting purposes.

by Leah Sakala, July 24, 2012

Representative Ford

Representative La Shawn K. Ford

The days of prison-based gerrymandering may be numbered in Illinois.

This morning, Illinois State Representative La Shawn K. Ford announced that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Maryland’s law ending prison-based gerrymandering reaffirms his proposed legislation to count incarcerated people at home for state and local redistricting purposes in Illinois:

“My bill, and the one passed by Maryland, represent state-based solutions to a long- standing problem in the federal Census. The federal census counts people in prison as residents of the prison location, even though they can’t vote and remain residents of their homes for all other legal purposes,” said Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-Chicago).

The Illinois bill introduced by Rep. Ford, HB 94 made it all the way to a floor vote last year. Rep. Ford expects to re-introduce legislation in the next session of the Illinois General Assembly. New York, Delaware and California have already passed similar laws.

Rep. Ford’s bill would adjust redistricting data to count incarcerated people where they live. The bill applies to state, county, and municipal redistricting data, ensuring that prison populations are not used to skew political power in state or local government. Such changes to redistricting data have no affect on the distribution of federal funds.

“Representative Ford has been advocating for an end to prison-based gerrymandering long before the problem was on the national radar. The Supreme Court has given a green light to Rep. Ford’s bill to end prison-based gerrymandering in Illinois,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative and the nation’s leading expert on how the Census Bureau’s practice of counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison locations harms the democratic process.

Ending prison-based gerrymandering in Illinois would be beneficial to every resident who does not live next to a large prison, and Rep. Ford’s legislation has the support of a strong local coalition.

With all the pieces in place, and with the support of the landmark Supreme Court decision, prospects look good for Illinois to join the growing list of states that have put an end to the practice of prison-based gerrymandering.




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