Captive Constituents: Prison-Based Gerrymandering and the Distortion of Our Democracy

Captive Constituents

Most state and local governments count incarcerated persons as residents of the prison communities where they are incarcerated when drawing election district lines, despite the fact that prisoners are not integrated into those communities and are not residents there. This practice, known as “prison-based gerrymandering,” artificially inflates the population count—and thus, the political influence—of the districts where prisons and jails are located. At the same time, this practice reduces the political power of everyone else. The viability of our communities, integrity of our democracy and basic principles of equality suffer as a result. The United States Constitution requires that election districts must be roughly equal in size, so that everyone is represented equally in the political process. Elected officials (with the exception of United States Senators) must represent roughly the same number of people, and each constituent is entitled to the same level of access to an elected official. This is known as the "One person, one vote" principle. 

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