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Connecticut Sued to End Prison Gerrymandering

by Scott Grammer

The NAACP and other plaintiffs have sued the State of Connecticut to put a stop to a “statewide practice of counting incarcerated people as residents of the legislative districts where they are held, rather than in their home districts.” This practice is known as prison gerrymandering. [See: PLN, Oct. 2017, p.52; Dec. 2012, p.1].

The NAACP says that since 2011, Connecticut has been counting state prisoners – who are disproportionately black or Latino and often maintain residences in urban areas – as residents of the predominantly white areas where they are incarcerated. According to the complaint, filed in June 2018, prisoners are counted this way for census purposes despite the fact that most cannot vote due to having felony convictions. Further, prisoners typically have no contact with the representatives of the districts where they are held, and those representatives “do not, in practice, represent those incarcerated persons or perform legislative services for them.” 

According to the NAACP, this practice “violates Connecticut residents’ constitutional rights to one person, one vote by inflating the power of predominantly white rural districts, where many prisons are located, to the detriment of urban districts, where many incarcerated persons maintain a permanent residence.” The suit seeks a new redistricting map that counts prisoners in their home districts, not where they are incarcerated.

Connecticut lawmakers have heard testimony regarding a legislative solution to this issue (HB 5611), and on February 15, 2019 the lawsuit survived a motion to dismiss filed by the state. In his ruling on that motion, U.S. District Court Judge Warren E. Eginton wrote: “The fundamental principle of representative government in this country is one of equal representation for equal numbers of people.... The instant case implicates the plausible compromise of fair and effective representation due to the Redistricting Plan’s reliance upon total population census data when, by state law, incarcerated individuals are not even considered residents of their prison location.” See: NAACP v. Merrill, U.S.D.C. (D. Conn.), Case No. 3:18-cv-01094-WWE.

The ruling cleared the way for the case to proceed to discovery. Other states considering legislation to address prison gerrymandering include New Jersey (S. 758, introduced in January 2019), Oregon (HB 2492, January 2019), Rhode Island (H.5513, January 2019), Texas (HB 104, November 2018) and Washington (SB 5287, January 2019). 


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Related legal case

NAACP v. Merrill