Counting prisoners as residents of the city where they are incarcerated instead of where they actually live creates inaccurate legislative representation, and one organization is trying to raise awareness of the issue in Connecticut.
Peter Wagner, executive director of the Prison Policy Initiative, will discuss the problem, also known as “prison gerrymandering,” at a talk at 7:30 Tuesday at Union Street Tavern, 20 Union St., Windsor.
The Prison Policy Initiative is a nationwide nonprofit research and advocacy organization studying how the prison system affects society as a whole. The group’s research first put prison gerrymandering on the map 12 years ago, Wagner said.
Wagner will put the issue in a larger context Tuesday regarding both criminal justice and electoral consequences. He said the Census Bureau should change its policy and that Connecticut can pass its own legislation to solve the problem.
Although Connecticut law states that prisoners are counted as residents of the cities where they lived before incarceration, the United States Census counts prisoners as residents of the town where they are imprisoned, Wagner said. This means small towns have disproportionately higher representation than they should, and the representation of all other towns is diluted.
Legislative districts are drawn based on population, but counting prisoners as residents of the districts where they are incarcerated distorts those populations, Wagner said.
According to a Prison Policy Initiative study, after the 2011 redistricting based on the 2010 census, nine Connecticut state house districts only met minimum population requirements because they included prisoners.
While prisoners come from nearly every town in Connecticut, the majority of prisoners are incarcerated in prisons in five towns: Cheshire, East Lyme, Enfield, Somers, and Suffield.
Legislation can be passed to fix this, Wagner said, and has been passed in other states. However, it has been defeated several times in Connecticut.
But raising awareness of the issue could help get a law passed, he said.
“This is one of those rare issues where talking about the problem gets you halfway toward the solution,” Wagner said.
If you plan to attend, RSVP here.