Prison Gerrymandering Lawsuit Moves Forward in Connecticut

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (CN) — A federal judge refused to dismiss the NAACP’s lawsuit over Connecticut’s policy of counting prisoners as constituents in lightly populated, rural areas where they are incarcerated.

U.S. District Judge Warren E. Eginton will allow discovery in the case to proceed, on the 2011 redistricting plan.

“The instant case implicates the plausible compromise of fair and effective representation due to the Redistricting Plan’s reliance upon total population census data when, by state law, incarcerated individuals are not even considered residents of their prison location,” Eginton wrote in his 12-page ruling.

The NAACP, represented by the NAACP Office of the General Counsel, Rosen & Associates, P.C. and the Yale Law School Rule of Law Clinic, says that Connecticut’s prison population is disproportionately black or Latino, and that many maintain permanent domiciles in urban areas of the state while serving their prison sentences in far-flung correctional centers where the population is predominantly white.

Though most of these inmates have lost their voting rights because of their felony convictions, the NAACP says that Connecticut since 2011 has been counting the inmates as residents of the communities where they are incarcerated.

They want Connecticut to adopt a new redistricting map that counts incarcerated people in their home legislative districts rather than in the districts where they are imprisoned.

“The Equal Protection Clause guarantees that each person’s vote must be equal to that of their fellow citizens,” NAACP General Counsel Bradford M. Berry said Tuesday. “Today’s ruling is a step toward securing that constitutional right for the people of Connecticut, in a case that will matter for all states that continue to engage in this unconstitutional practice.”

One of the plaintiffs, Garry Monk, said: “With the 2020 elections coming up, I’m hopeful that we’re closer to the day my vote counts equally to those of people who happen to live in prison districts.”

Counting prisoners where they are incarcerated as opposed to where they previously lived is called prison gerrymandering.

“Prison gerrymandering is a double punch — it takes away the political power of people of color and gives it to rural districts,” Scot X. Esdaile, president of the NAACP Connecticut State Conference, said. “Not only are our communities devastated by mass incarceration, but this practice piles on by taking political equality away as well.”

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