Prison Gerrymandering Act

New legislation in California will put an end to prison gerrymandering. Earlier, the state Senate has passed the AB 420 bill initiated by Mike Davis, a senate member, in 2012. The bill aimed to stop the district padding practice of passing individuals temporarily held at a prison facility located in a district as a resident of the district. 

Prison gerrymandering happens when the inmates serving time in a prison within a district are counted as part of the inhabitants. Typically, such persons are residents of the district where their last known address exists. This practice is detrimental because it results in an unjust increase in the population of the district and provides them with more voting power. It also causes a disproportion in the population of some counties.

The practice also disregards the One Person, One Vote law. This rule means that the voting power of individuals should carry equal weight, as directed by the Supreme Court. 

Typically, prisons are situated within districts with a low population, and counting the prison residents among the general population is prison-based gerrymandering. It can be detrimental to the counties in which the prisoners come. 

The urban black communities are the most affected by prison-based gerrymandering. Such is due to the high number of individuals from the community who are serving prison time. As a consequence, these communities are unjustly deprived of the political power they deserve. In comparison, the districts that gain from this practice are usually sparsely populated if they exclude their prison population.

The new legislation requires the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to provide the appropriate agencies with the most recent residential address of prisoners before their incarceration. The legislation will facilitate the counting of inmates as part of the community they reside in, putting a stop to prison-based gerrymandering.

 The new law requires that upon getting the data from the Department of Corrections, the Citizens Redistricting Commission shall register confined individuals as living in at their last reported residential location, rather than at the county jail or prison that they are serving a sentence.

This practice is prevalent nationwide, but some states are passing legislation to curb and put an end to it. California joins other states in the United States that have passed laws to terminate the gerrymandering practice.

The development is a welcome initiative as many organizations have been campaigning for better districting in the state.