August 24, 2021–Today, Pennsylvania took a big step forward as a democracy. In a 3-2 vote, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC)—the state panel authorized under the Pennsylvania Constitution to draw state legislative district lines—adopted a resolution to count state prison inmates at their home addresses, rather than the addresses of their cells, when determining legislative district boundaries.
Pennsylvania now joins 10 other states during this redistricting cycle that will end the practice known as “prison gerrymandering”—counting inmates in their cells instead of their hometowns. In Pennsylvania, prison gerrymandering has warped representation in Harrisburg by giving an unfair population boost to districts where state prisons, housing more than 40,000 inmates, are located. These districts are predominantly rural and white, while Pennsylvania prisoners are disproportionately Black, Latino, and from urban communities.
“Prisoners seldom have ties to the communities near their prisons and nearly always return to their hometowns upon release,” our Executive Director Brenda Marrero wrote in an August 19 op-ed urging Pennsylvanians to contact the LRC in support of today’s decision. “They cannot use their temporary prison addresses to vote in local elections or enroll their kids in public schools. Legislators who represent districts containing prisons generally do not treat people incarcerated there as constituents.”
Today’s decision recognizes that incarcerated Pennsylvanians should be represented in Harrisburg as part of their communities—not counted in districts they often have no connection to, at their hometown’s expense. Today’s decision was not only the right thing to do, but is necessary to abide by the principle of “one person, one vote” as laid out in the Pennsylvania Constitution.
We have long advocated for this change, and we have been at the center of efforts to push the LRC to adopt this reform. Five years ago today in 2016, we filed a public comment with the U.S. Census Bureau proposing that it change its rules to count prisoners at their home addresses. Since then, we have continued to meet with state officials, to educate the public in presentations and publications, and to provide decision makers with expert legal and factual information.