Fighting to End Prison-Based Gerrymandering

Fair Districts PA requests that the United States Census Bureau take necessary steps to count incarcerated persons as residents of home communities, rather than as residents of their places of incarceration.

Pennsylvania law defines an inmate’s residence as follows:

[F]or the purpose of determining residence,

an inmate in a penal institution is deemed to reside where the individual was last registered to vote before being confined in the penal institution; or

If the inmate was not registered to vote prior to confinement, the individual is deemed to reside at the last known address before confinement; or

A new residence established while confined (for example, if the inmate’s spouse establishes a new residence in which the inmate intends to reside upon his/her release from confinement).

Pennsylvania law also states, “A penal institution (including a halfway house) cannot be a residence address for registering to vote.”

In other words, counting inmates as residents of prisons and detention centers violates Pennsylvania law.

In addition, this practice violates the “one person, one vote” requirement of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, as was made clear this year by U.S. District Court Judge Mark E. Walker in Calvin et al. v. Jefferson County, and by U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lagueux in Davidson v. City of Cranston.

Census Bureau advisory committees have repeatedly requested that incarcerated persons be properly tabulated as residents of their home communities. Legislative bodies, advocacy organizations and research institutions have documented the distortion to democracy when poor, primarily urban prisoners are used to swell the population base and political clout of politicians who have strong incentive to support prison expansion and policies that ensure continued mass incarceration. This practice is prison-based gerrymandering.

Fair Districts PA is a coalition of citizens and organizations who believe that in American democracy, elections should represent the will of all the people, not just the politicians, and that redistricting should be done in a way that is transparent, impartial and fair. Counting inmates as part of prison districts undermines government of, by and for the people. Fair Districts PA urges the Census Bureau to reconsider its plans to continue this practice and instead, to correct this distortion of American democracy.

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice is one of the founding members of Fair Districts PA.

For more information on prison-based gerrymandering, we have provided some podcasts from the Prison Policy Initiative.

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