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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: October 11, 2019 02:17 PM
From: Senator Sharif Street and Sen. Jay Costa, Sen. Vincent J. Hughes
To: All Senate members
Subject: Ending the Practice of Prison Gerrymandering in Pennsylvania
In the near future, we will introduce legislation to prohibit “prison gerrymandering” in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Prison gerrymandering occurs when an inmate is counted by the census as a resident in their “usual residence,” which is the district of the prison in which he or she is incarcerated, as established by the first census in the Act of March 1, 1790. However, there are exceptions in the “usual residence” application. For instance, individuals in the process of moving, in rehabilitation or group facilities, or attending boarding school, were still counted in their home district or county. Therefore, the process of counting prison inmates should mirror this process throughout the Commonwealth since inmates will return to their home districts at the end of their sentence.

By counting the inmates as residents of the jurisdictions in which they are incarcerated, those jurisdictions are treating these inmates as if they can vote in their district elections. However, persons incarcerated for felony convictions are not allowed to vote in Pennsylvania. This creates a gerrymandering effect giving jurisdictions with prisons more representative power than those without.

As an example, imagine if each district in a state has 100 residents, but in one of those districts, district A, there is a prison incarcerating 30 inmates. District A will only have 70 eligible voters compared to district B, C, and so forth, which have 100 voters. This allows district A’s 70 voters to have the same amount of influence or power as the 100 voters of district B or C, which results in the disproportionate representation of the districts.

Moreover, since prison gerrymandering can increase a district’s political influence, the district could receive not only more representation, but also receive additional revenue and funding allocation because of the inflated population numbers.

As of 2019, Nevada, Washington, California, New York and Maryland have passed legislation or have statutes in place prohibiting the practice of prison gerrymandering. By prohibiting prison gerrymandering in Pennsylvania, we can take a step in the right direction to rectify this inequality in the Commonwealth.

It is for these reasons that we urge you to join us in co-sponsoring this bill.

Introduced as SB930