Editorial | You’ve Heard About Gerrymandering. What Happens When It Involves Prisons? – The New York Times

The editorial board is a group of opinion journalists whose views are informed by expertise, research, debate and certain longstanding values. It is separate from the newsroom.

Credit…Illustration by Nicholas Konrad/The New York Times; photograph by Getty Images

“Where do you live? For most people, that’s an easy question to answer when the census comes around. It’s much harder for those locked up in a state or federal prison, often hundreds or even thousands of miles from the place they last called home.

Longstanding Census Bureau policy is to count people as residing wherever they usually eat and sleep, known as the “usual residence” rule. For prisoners, that means being counted in the legislative districts where they are incarcerated.

But that makes no sense, because virtually everyone who goes to prison comes from somewhere else, and almost all will return there after being released. While they are behind bars, they can’t vote, nor do they have any attachment to the local community or its elected officials. They are counted, even though they can’t hold their representatives accountable.

The result is one of the more persistent and pernicious distortions in the redistricting process, known as “prison gerrymandering.” Now that the 2020 census count is over, and the nation begins its decennial struggle over how to draw new congressional and other legislative district lines — and who gains or loses political power as a result — it’s a good time to talk about how we can get rid of prison gerrymandering at last.” . . .

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