Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘prison policy initiative

Second Grader Tests Limits of Rhode Island’s Prison-based Gerrymandering Policy

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A second grade girl is putting Rhode Island’s prison-based gerrymandering policy to the test. As reported by this local TV news story, the child has requested that she be allowed to stay on with her classmates at her elementary school in Cranston, where her father is incarcerated, rather than transferring to an elementary school in Providence, where she recently moved with her mother. Advocates for the 9-year-old girl argue that since Cranston considers inmates to be residents at Census time, the city should be prepared to afford them access to services for residents — such as access to the public schools for their children. It’s funny to watch Cranston’s flustered mayor, Allan Fung, towards the end of the local news story: “This individual is not a taxpayer to the city of Cranston! He’s in a situation where he’s incarcerated!” The story also interviews an organizer with Direct Action for Rights and Equality, a Rhode Island organization that advocates for low-income communities of color.

This is a revealing test case, but it’s also a test case that could really only happen in Rhode Island. Cranston is a few minutes’ drive from Providence. In most states, of course, the incarcerated father would more likely be in a prison hours away from his daughter. But in states across the country, local politicians prefer to count prisoners as residents of their districts so they can attract population-based funding and boost their numbers for legislative redistricting, even though prisoners usually can’t vote, aren’t taxpayers, and aren’t considered local residents for just about any other purpose. For instance, prisoners who attempt to petition the local courts for a divorce are frequently rejected and instructed instead to file in their home county. Another revealing inconsistency is that prisoners incarcerated out-of-state generally aren’t considered residents of the state where they are incarcerated by the federal courts when determining personal jurisdiction. In short, nowhere in our governmental structure are prisoners really considered “residents” of the locality where their prison is located, except when it comes time for redistricting. This year legislation has been proposed in several states — including Rhode Island — to end this practice; you can track the issue at the Prisoners of the Census blog.

Quick Roundup on Census 2010 and Prison-based Gerrymandering

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I’m traveling this week, but right before I left for my trip, I made sure to fill out and return my 2010 Census form. This was my first “adult” census since I was still a “minor” in 2000 and 1990, so it was kind of exciting to feel like I was being counted (although, also somewhat anticlimactic since the form turns out to be so short!). Of course, I couldn’t help but notice the line on the Census form instructing me not to include in my household count any family members or friends who are currently in prison, since prisoners are counted in the location where they’re incarcerated. I’ve posted frequently in recent months about the issue of “prison-based gerrymandering” — the way that communities where prisons are located benefit from the prison population when it’s time for legislative redistricting, even though prisoners generally can’t vote and aren’t considered members of the community for any other purpose.

This practice hurts not just the urban communities that prisoners usually come from, but rural communities too — actually, it hurts every community that doesn’t have a prison. The good news is that, although it’s not a full solution, this year the Census Bureau will release population data in a way that allows states to disaggregate prisoners from population numbers when it is time for redistricting, and as a result, several states are considering legislation to do just that. The best place to go for news and updates on this very important topic is Peter Wagner’s Prisoners of the Census website, a project of the Prison Policy Initiative. It’s largely thanks to the advocacy of this vital organization that “prison-based gerrymandering” has entered the lexicon and steps are being taken around the country to remedy this unjust practice. A full digest of my posts on this topic can be found at

Written by sara

March 26, 2010 at 10:05 am

Upcoming Event: New York State Prisoner Justice Conference

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The New York State Prisoner Justice Conference, scheduled for Saturday, March 27, in Albany, N.Y., will bring together activist organizations and individuals from throughout the Empire State to share ideas and plan collaborations. Click the link above for more information or to register. So far the list of participating organizations looks like a great line-up, including the Bronx Defenders, the Legal Aid Society, the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Prison Policy Initiative, as well as a slew of smaller organizations.

Written by sara

February 27, 2010 at 12:35 pm

How Prison-Based Gerrymandering Hurts Rural Communities

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Since most prisons are in rural areas, and most prisoners come from urban areas, prison-based gerrymandering is often portrayed as an urban vs. rural issue. (For a roundup of my earlier blog posts on the issue of where to count prisoners for Census 2010, click here; to sign’s petition urging New York lawmakers to pass a pending bill that would end prison-based gerrymandering in that state, click here.) But as Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative points out:

the practice of padding some legislative districts with large prisons dilutes the votes of everyone who does not live next to a large prison. Rural and urban communities suffer about the same.

Wagner testified earlier this week in hearings before the House Subcommittee on Information Policy, the Census, and National Archives. You can read his prepared testimony at the Prisoners of the Census Blog. Highlights:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

February 25, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Local Pols to Prisoners: You Live In Our County When It Helps Us, Not When It Helps You

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The Prison Policy Initiative’s Prisoners of the Census blog points out that while legislators are happy to count prisoners as residents of their districts come Census time, they’re not legally considered residents for just about any other purpose:

When the Census is not underway and the news cameras are not around, no politician treats the people in local prison cells as residents or constituents.

Most services and benefits that are available only to residents are things that by the nature of their incarceration, people in prison couldn’t take advantage of. We’ll never know if a town with a prison and a residents-only beach would welcome an incarcerated person to swim. Other laws prevent incarcerated people from wandering freely down to the beach. There is, however, one local right that an incarcerated person could exercise if they were a resident of the prison county. The right to divorce in local courts, a right accessible to all county residents, is frequently, if not universally, denied to people whose only tie to the county is incarceration.

When incarcerated people petition the local court for a divorce, they are rejected because they are not residents and instructed to file for divorce in their home county. This is true even if the incarcerated person was married in the prison. (See Washington County Chief Clerk Kathleen M. LaBelle to Troy Johnson, Feb 27, 2003 and March 21, 2003.) In June 2009, Acting Supreme Court Justice Patrick R. McGill in Clinton ruled that despite concluding that the incarcerated person seeking divorce was married at the correctional facility in the county 3 years prior:

“The plaintiff is an inmate at the Clinton Correctional Facility and seeks poor person status… The plaintiff has not established however, that he is a resident of the County of Clinton as the result of any voluntary decision on his part; rather, he is merely present in this county by virtue of his incarceration and may be transferred to a facility in another county at any time.”

NPR’s All Things Considered reported today on the issue of where to count prisoners. For my earlier posts on prisoners and the Census, click here and here.

Written by sara

February 15, 2010 at 9:52 pm

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