Grassroots Coalition Calls on Rhode Island Leaders to Eliminate Prison Gerrymandering

Today, more than 20 statewide organizations sent a letter to the members of Rhode Island’s Special Committee on Reapportionment, urging them to end the harmful practice of prison gerrymandering. The letter calls on committee members to amend the 2020 Census data it uses for redistricting to count Rhode Islanders as residents of their home addresses rather than the prisons where they are temporarily housed. With a single vote, the committee can immediately enact this change so the data can be updated before drawing new district maps.

“Prison gerrymandering does nothing but strip away Rhode Islander’s constitutional right to fair representation in our government,” said John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island. “State leaders have the opportunity to correct an unjust practice that disproportionately impacts people of color right now before we draw new district maps in place for the next decade. We urge the Reapportionment Committee not to miss this chance to provide every Rhode Islander with fair representation in our government.”

“Every person in Rhode Island deserves to have equal representation and equal voice in our government, regardless of what political party we belong to, what we look like, or where we live,” said Jane Koster, president of the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island. “Prison gerrymandering unfairly inflates the voting power of whiter, more rural communities while diminishing voting power for more diverse and urban communities. It’s time we end this harmful practice in Rhode Island once and for all.”

According to a 2016 Department of Justice study, people spend an average of 2.6 years serving in prison. The U.S. Census Bureau’s Census count takes place once every ten years, meaning that anyone who is counted as a resident of a prison facility in the 2020 redistricting process will be counted as a resident of the prison long after they return to their permanent address.

With an affirmative vote to end prison gerrymandering, Rhode Island would become the thirteenth state in the nation to ban counting residents at prisons rather than their home communities. The letter highlights that just last month, Pennsylvania’s Legislative Reapportionment Committee voted to count incarcerated people in their home addresses for redistricting.

To view the letter, click here.