Maine became the latest state to end prison gerrymandering on June 30, 2023, when Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed LD 1704/HP 1093 into law and joined 16 other states to count prisoners at their home address instead of the prison where they are incarcerated.
The Census Bureau created the problem of prison gerrymandering by counting prisoners as residents of their cellblocks instead of the communities where they lived pre-incarceration—and will likely return upon release. It doesn’t treat other people this way who are away from home for long periods: Students in boarding schools, universities or colleges, as well as members of Congress and military personnel are counted at their home address, not where they reside.
Called prison gerrymandering, the miscount artificially increases the population of largely rural and majority-white areas where prisons are located at the expense of urban and less-white areas where most prisoners come from. The result: These rural areas gain unfair political leverage when state governments use the incorrect data to draw new legislative districts.
With the passage of the new law, Maine has ensured its redistricting decisions will become more equitable and that prisoners and communities most negatively impacted by mass incarceration do not have their political power artificially diluted. Montana and Illinois also passed laws in 2023 allowing state officials to adjust Census Bureau data to show prisoners at their home address.
Maine is also one of just two states allowing incarcerated citizens to vote. Those held in Maine prisons register and vote by mail-in ballot, using a pre-incarceration address, so the reform aligns the state’s redistricting laws with its voting laws.
Although Maine has joined what the National Conference of State Legislatures calls “the fastest-growing trend in redistricting,” Prison Policy Initiative Legal Director Aleks Kajstura said a big question remains: “Will the Census Bureau listen to these states and change how it counts incarcerated people, or will it stubbornly dig in its heels and continue to force governments to modify redistricting data to make it usable?”
Source: Prison Policy Initiative
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