Guest Column: Peter Wagner on Felons, Redistricting, and the Urban/Rural Divide

This from Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative:

Professor Gronke,

I just saw your blog post from earlier this week.

I’d argue that rather than changing redistricting practices, Senator Shield’s bill (and that pending in 7 other states) would merely put current redistricting practices back in sync with state law.   The Oregon Constitution (and common law) says that a prison cell is not a residence, so even the rare person serving a life sentence is not a resident of the prison location. None of these was statistically relevant when the number of people in prison was small, but today, there are enough people locked up for it to matter.

Surprising to some, the biggest beneficiaries may be rural residents who live near but not immediately adjacent to a large prison.   For example, if the City of Pendleton uses the prison counts in their new districts, they will be drawing a district that is 28% incarcerated, giving every group of 3 residents near the prison as much influence as 4 in other districts.  That kind of extreme One Person One Vote problem is why more than 100 rural counties manually remove the prison populations prior to redistricting.  More information about this issue in Oregon is in our new 50 state report:

Thanks for your interest in this issue.

Peter Wagner
Executive Director
Prison Policy Initiative