New Connecticut Law Eliminates Prison Gerrymandering
On May 26, 2021, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed S.B. 753, Public Act 21-13, which created a new statute requiring the state to count most imprisoned persons as residents of the district where they were living before they were imprisoned for purposes of redistricting. The previous practice was to count them as residents of the district where they are imprisoned. That practice—known as prison gerrymandering—exaggerated the political power of the mostly rural districts where the prisons are located while diluting the political power of the urban districts most of the prisoners come from.
The Connecticut State Conference of the NAACP and the ACLU of Connecticut (ACLU-CT) have been championing an end to prison gerrymandering in the state for more than ten years. They were represented by the Yale School of Law’s Peter Gruber Rule of Law Clinic.
With the enactment of S.B. 753, Connecticut became the eleventh state to be added to the list of those abolishing prison gerrymandering. New York, California and New Jersey have also passed similar legislation.
“This moment is only possible because justice-impacted people and their loved ones have been fighting for it for more than a decade. No longer will Connecticut violate the dignity of incarcerate people by counting them where they are caged instead of the place they call home,” said ACLU-CT’s Interim Public Policy and Advocacy Director Claudine Fox. “Prison gerrymandering is racist and undemocratic, and today our state made a historic leap forward to right one of the wrongs of its past.”
The new law requires the Connecticut Department of Corrections (CTDOC) to create a unique anonymous identifier for each of its prisoners and link it to that person’s location of incarceration, address prior to incarceration, race, ethnicity, and whether the person is over 18 years of age. They are to then provide the information to the Secretary of the Office of Public Management. There are exceptions for persons serving life without parole or whose prior address was out-of-state or unknown. It also stipulates that the Secretary request similar information from federal prisons in the state.
The law requires the Secretary to use the information to adjust the decennial census population counts such that the non-exempted prisoners are counted as part of the district of their prior address, not the district the prison is located in, unless they are the same. The CTDOC is specifically prohibited from providing prisoners’ names or other information that could uncover their identities.
Sources: S.B. 753, acluct.org