Prison Gerrymandering, it’s worse than it sounds

Prison Gerrymandering is a big issue for almost every state in our country that runs and operates a large-scale prison. Our census policy is meant to count the residents in a district every ten years so we can allocate resources and funding to areas proportionate to their population. The problem with prison gerrymandering is that it distorts these figures by counting the inmates from the local prison. One might speculate as to why that is an issue since it’s true, that they are physically located in that space, and by definition, they do technically reside in the prison. However, prison is not where they actually live, prisoners do not vote, and they aren’t using the roads or any community resources since everything is provided for them within the prison. 

The way we count the prison census data as it is skews the figures in such a way that we are taking resources away from larger demographic areas that could benefit from the extra funding. Furthermore, there are concerns about the use of mass incarceration such as the fact that 38% of all prisoners are African American, whereas they are roughly only 12% of the overall population. Prison gerrymandering poses an even bigger issue once we consider the fact that these are resources being taken away from minorities that have already been disproportionately affected by predetermined social constructs and power structures. As stated on the website “prison gerrymandering may have arisen by accident, but the reluctance of state and federal governments to eliminate it is rooted in the systematic disenfranchisement of Black and Brown communities.” 

When considering the problem with prison gerrymandering it comes across to me as another issue that encapsulates our need for prison reform overall. As I mentioned previously the practice started out as an earnest mistake but received pushback when they realized this mistake had resources attached to it. Much like Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs, it seems to be a lot of politicians just want to take the easy way out. That being said, seeing traditionally red states like Montana join in the effort to end this practice gives me hope for the 2030 census.

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