One of the myriad ways that mass incarceration perpetuates racial injustice is by reducing the political power of communities of color through a practice known as “prison gerrymandering.” This is when incarcerated people are counted as living where they are imprisoned when electoral maps are drawn, rather than in their home communities. Last summer, the committee that redraws state legislative districts in Pennsylvania started to undo this practice.
Now, Philadelphia now has an opportunity to continue the work to end prison gerrymandering and stop its inequitable impact on the city’s elections.
The majority of incarcerated people are people of color, but prisons tend to be located in white, rural areas. In Pennsylvania, 56.2% of people confined to state prisons are Black or Hispanic, though they make up only 20% of the population. Counting them as residing in the districts encompassed by the prisons in effect enhances the power of those white, rural communities at the expense of urban communities of color.
Last August, Pennsylvania’s Legislative Redistricting Committee diminished the influence of prison gerrymandering when it decided to reallocate 30,000 people residing in state prisons to their home communities when drawing new district boundaries for state senators and representatives. But the ruling does not affect federal and local legislative districts. In Philadelphia, thousands of people incarcerated in the city’s jails, who are mostly people of color, are still included in the predominantly white city council district where the facilities are located.
As our executive director wrote in an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Philadelphia City Council and the administration of Mayor Jim Kenney must end this practice as they engage in the process of redrawing the city’s 10 council districts. But time is running short.
The Prison Society calls on City Council and Mayor Kenney to end prison gerrymandering in city council districts before the February 12th deadline.
Once again, the Prison Society also calls on all state and county officials to: