A bill to count prison inmates where they lived prior to incarceration cleared a key committee Monday, potentially changing how legislative districts will be populated when lawmakers remap them later this year.
The Government Administration and Elections Committee approved legislation to address so-called “prison gerrymandering.” Connecticut, like many other states, includes incarcerated people in the legislative districts where they are locked up rather than whatever town they call home.
“That community doesn’t support that individual, their families or anything. However, the communities where they come from, they still have family there. They’re more than likely going to return there,” Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, said before the panel voted on the bill. “I really think there’s no excuse for us not to be doing this.”
Opponents of the current law say it systematically diminishes the representative clout of predominantly Black and brown cities. The bill has come before the legislature several times, but there is greater urgency this year as lawmakers prepare to conduct the once-a-decade process to remap the districts to reflect the 2020 U.S. Census. Districts are required to have an equal number of residents and are adjusted to account for the most recent population tally.
“We’ve been doing this business in Connecticut for far too long,” McCrory said. “It dictates where resources are going, who needs them, and all kinds of things of that magnitude. So it is extremely important for Connecticut to come around and get with the 21st Century.”
During a brief debate Monday, Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Southington, said he did not see a compelling reason to change the law.
“I don’t believe there is an injustice going on with counting incarcerated people at their residence address, which happens to be the Department of Corrections address,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a problem.”
The bill introduces a “host” of problems into the counting of legislative districts, Sampson said. He said it would require counting incarcerated people at a “fictitious” location.
“People have described this bill to me as undoing gerrymandering when, in fact, I believe this bill is in fact creating gerrymandering,” he said. “Essentially what this bill aims to do is ignore the fact that people actually do reside at an address, even if that happens to be a prison location.”
Rep. Gregg Haddad, D-Mansfield, said the current law has a consequential impact on Connecticut’s system of representation. The law allows for a district to hypothetically consist entirely of prisoners, if enough of them were incarcerated in close proximity to each other, he said.
“It’s equally important to our system of democracy that we don’t have districts that are systematically under-sized because we count prisoners at their temporary address,” he said.
The bill will head to the state Senate for consideration. Senate President Martin Looney, who controls the agenda in the chamber, submitted testimony in support of the measure earlier this month.