What Is Prison Gerrymandering and How Does It Impact US Politics?

Teen Vogue, 10/31/22: “Every 10 years, the Census Bureau attempts to count every resident in the United States. This process incites prison gerrymandering, which means counting incarcerated people as residents of their prison cells rather than as residents of their home communities.

Because this population data is used to draw electoral maps, the practice severely limits political representation of those communities at all levels of government, says Jessica Jackson, chief advocacy and operations officer at REFORM, an organization that aims to reduce the number of people in the criminal justice system, specifically focusing on probation and parole. Even if an incarcerated person has a sentence that is longer than 10 years, many people don’t stay in the same prison for a decade…

‘People from primarily Black and brown communities are incarcerated in and counted as residents of prisons in rural white communities,’ says Robert Saleem Holbrook, executive director of Abolitionist Law Center. Counting incarcerated people from urban areas as residents in rural communities enhances the political representation of these areas in the state legislature, he says. This is at the expense of the urban Black and brown communities that many incarcerated people call home.

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