Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘rhode island

States that Don’t Fix Prison-based Gerrymandering May Face Lawsuits

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If you want political power, you should move to City Council Ward 2 in Anamosa, Iowa. There, you’ll only have to share your City Council representative with 57 other constituents! In any of Anamosa’s other three wards, you’d have to share your representative with about 1,370 other constituents. How is this possible? Through the magic of prison-based gerrymandering. Anamosa’s Ward 2 contains a state penitentiary home to about 1,320 inmates, who get factored into the population count for the purpose of City Council districting even though they can’t vote, and are unlikely even to be from Anamosa.

That’s an extreme instance of prison-based gerrymandering, but it’s not as extreme as you might think. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has produced an informative publication, Captive Constituents (PDF download), that outlines the democracy-distorting effects of counting prisoners where they’re incarcerated when drawing state and local election districts. As the example of Anamosa demonstrates, prison-based gerrymandering is not primarily an urban-rural or racial issue. It dilutes the votes of everyone who doesn’t live in a district with a prison — like the rural Iowans who live in Anamosa City Council Wards 1, 3, and 4.

That said, prison-based gerrymandering undeniably has unique effects on urban minority communities. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Oregon to Deport Selected Nonviolent Offenders in Exchange for Early Release

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The Corvallis Gazette-Times reports that Oregon’s new inmate deportation program is off to a start, albeit a slow one. The program applies only to inmates who are in the U.S. illegally, have less than six months left on their sentences, and have been convicted for certain nonviolent crimes, such as drugs or theft:

The state hopes to save more than $2 million over the current two-year budget cycle by sending the inmates back to their home countries, in Oregon’s case, mostly to Mexico.

The savings from the early deportation program were expected to begin shortly after it was approved by the Legislature last year. But a legal glitch delayed finalizing the agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, until January.

Oregon Department of Corrections officials said the program is now under way, with about a dozen inmates already handed over to ICE for deportation.

Prisoners waive their rights to challenge the deportation in exchange for commutation of their sentence by the governor and early release. They also face tough penalties if they return illegally.

Only a handful of other states have similar programs, but most have saved money.

New York has saved about $152 million since 1995 with its version of the program, while Arizona has saved more than $33 million since 2005, immigration officials said.

Georgia has reported the most successful program so far, removing more than 3,600 illegal immigrant inmates from October 2008 through August 2009 for an estimated savings of $204 million.

However — as the article also notes, and as the Boston Globe reported a few weeks ago, a similar program in Rhode Island has yet to result in a single deportation, because of the program’s strict criteria combined with the small number of illegal immigrants in Rhode Island prisons.

Written by sara

February 6, 2010 at 7:22 am

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