Redistricting panel votes to end prison gerrymandering

HARRISBURG, Aug. 24 – House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton said today’s vote by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission to end the practice of prison gerrymandering is a vital step toward fairness and equity in Pennsylvania elections.

“Most of the people currently in state facilities will, sooner or later, be released from custody and resume their lives on the outside,” McClinton said. “Today’s action by the commission makes sure those people are counted in their communities and ends the unjust practice of treating people as permanent residents of where they are incarcerated instead of the communities in which they will live upon release.”

The people directly affected are those serving sentences in either a state correctional facility or a state facility for adjudicated delinquent youth. McClinton’s resolution that passed today does not apply to federal or county prison facilities, which are not under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Corrections, nor does it count for inmates under a life sentence.

“More than 35,000 people – more than half of a legislative district – are being counted not in their community, but where they are currently housed. First and foremost, we end a practice which denies these people their rightful representation but, beyond that, we end giving undue weight to those rural counties where prisoners are unfairly counted in the legislature. Today we are standing up for equal treatment before the law and truly embracing the ideals of ‘one person, one vote.’”

The commission’s action changes the current practice where the U.S. Census counts incarcerated individuals as residents of the prison location rather than their previous residential address. This unintentionally inflated the weight of a vote cast in districts that contain prisons at the expense of voters in areas that do not host a prison. This also dilutes the power of the vote for Black and Brown communities whose citizens are disproportionately incarcerated. 

Pennsylvania has 23 state correctional institutions and one motivational boot camp facility located in 19 different counties. The combined population count for these facilities in April was 37,284 people. More than 9,000 of those people – almost 25% of the total – are from the city of Philadelphia but are not counted as residents of the city. Conversely, 31% of the total population of Forest County – more than 2,200 of the 7,300 people counted by the census there – are actually inmates in state correctional institutions in the county.