A few days ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the prison industrial complex, where I was introduced to prison based gerrymandering. Since then, I’ve done a lot more research on prison based gerrymandering and how it relates to the prison industrial complex. Prison Based Gerrymandering is a complicated process, which relates to how the U.S. Census counts prisoners. Essentially the role of the Census is to figure out government representation and the amount of money areas receive based on their population. All the prisoners are accounted for in 1 household and the money for the area they live in comes from where the prison is based. Which explains the increase of private prisons and the increase of prisons in higher incomer areas. This can create a complicated dynamic in terms of police quotas and their relationships with certain neighborhoods. For example, in New York many police officers arrest multiple people from the Bronx to send them to prison on the Upper East Side. Since all the prisoners are accounted for in the Upper East Side, this process helps funnel in even more resources to the Upper East Side and takes away money that could be used in the Bronx for higher education and social programs that would stop the criminalization of low income people of color.
Additionally, prisoners aren’t allowed to vote. There are a few exceptions that would allow prisoners to vote. Prisoners don’t get a say in the political system and therefore don’t have access to political power to change this system. This ironically sounds very similar to the 3/5 Compromise. Currently, multiple conversations are occurring between prison abolitionists that compare present day racist institutions in America to our historical racist past, such as Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.
Right now, there are movements all over the country to find solutions to this problem. Community organizers are demanding that the government take action by allowing prisoners to have voting rights and counting where the prisoner’s are from instead of the prisons that they are in. This change is happening on the policy level all over the country. In 2013, House Democrats urged Census reform to attempt to tackle this problem, yet concrete action has yet to be taken. More information about people organizing on this issue can be found on http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/
Here are links for more information and context:
U.S. Census: http://www.howstuffworks.com/census.htm
3/5 Compromise: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-Fifths_Compromise