Thursday, July 12, 2012

The New JIM Crow

Prison-based gerrymandering in Michelle Alexander’s The...
Prison-based gerrymandering in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow
by Leah Sakala, April 10, 2012

In a recent op-ed, Professor Jess Rigelhaupt argues that the Obama administration needs to prioritize ending mass incarceration. He draws on Michelle Alexander’s powerful arguments about how mass incarceration fuels racial inequality in Alexander’s new book, The New Jim Crow. Both Professor Rigelhaupt and Professor Alexander point to the problem of prison-based gerrymandering in state legislative districts as an example.
As Professor Alexander explains on page 188:
Under the usual-residence rule, the Census Bureau counts imprisoned individuals as residents of the jurisdiction in which they are incarcerated. Because most new prison construction occurs in predominantly white, rural areas, white communities benefit from inflated population totals at the expense of the urban, overwhelmingly minority communities from which the prisoners come. This has enormous consequences for the redistricting process. White rural communities that house prisons wind up with more people in state legislatures representing them, while poor communities of color lose representatives because it appears their population has decreased. This policy is disturbingly reminiscent of the three-fifths clause in the original Constitution, which enhanced the political clout of slaveholding states by including 60 percent of slaves in the population base for calculating Congressional seats and electoral votes, even through they could not vote.
Her book provides a comprehensive picture of how mass incarceration is jeopardizing our democratic system and our wellbeing as a nation.
And if you’re interested in learning more about the parallels between prison-based gerrymandering and the infamous three-fifths clause, check out John Drake’s new journal article, “Locked Up and Counted Out: Bringing an End to Prison-based Gerrymandering,” or my blog post about prison-based gerrymandering in Wisconsin.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Supreme court 6 12/gerrymandering lessened in Maryland

Supreme Court  June 2012
Gerrymandering Lessened in Maryland: prison town cannot count prisoners as its residents

Maryland prisoners to be counted at last known address not prison address
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a ruling Monday that allows Maryland to count prison inmates at their last known addresses - rather than their prison addresses - for redistricting purposes, and upholds the map approved by the General Assembly last year.

Activists had sued the state, saying that the newly drawn congressional districting map violated the U.S. Constitution. The map was developed by a committee appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley and based on census data and statewide input. It was also drawn to reflect a 2010 Maryland law that counts prisoners at their last known addresses, which differs from the U.S. Census Bureau's  policy of counting inmates at their prison addresses, used by most states.

Critics of the federal policy say it has artificially inflated the populations and voting power of the often-rural districts that contain prisons, while reducing the influence of urban areas where many inmates formerly lived.

“These prisoners do not use the roads or the resources in that [prison’s] district,” said Delegate Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk, Prince George’s Democrat. “They end up being released and going back to the communities where they lived prior to being incarcprionerated.”

The Supreme Court issued its decision based on briefs in the District Court case and did not hear oral arguments.

“We’re disappointed in the terms of the decision,” said Radamase Cabrera, spokesman for the Fannie Lou Hamer Political Action Committee, a black voting rights group that helped back the lawsuit. The lawsuit also claimed the maps were drawn to illegally dilute minority influence.

“But we will continue doing what we need to do about getting the referendum on the ballot,” Mr. Cabrera said.
Opponents of the congressional map are trying to <$>petition it to referendum and have until Saturday to turn in 55,736 valid voter signatures to the state.

Organizers, some of whom argue the map disenfranchises black voters as well as Republicans, turned in 26,763 of those signatures last month.

Maryland is one of just four states that counts prisoners at their former home addresses for congressional and legislative redistricting purposes, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. The others are California, Delaware and New York.

The legislation instituting the change was sponsored by Ms. Pena-Melnyk and Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, Baltimore Democrat.

Supporters argued that most prisoners have no connection to their prison communities and return within a matter of months or years to live and vote in their former hometowns.

The new policy is expected to most prominently protect representation in Baltimore, which has steadily lost residents and legislative seats over the years. The city could now see a slower rate of loss...