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Advocates Hope Prison-based Gerrymandering Will Be Addressed

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Monday, May 16, 2011

A bill that would have forced the state to count prisoners in the cities or towns they lived in before they were incarcerated was not called for a vote by the Judiciary Committee, but some lawmakers, like Sen. Eric Coleman, believe there’s a chance it could be resurrected.

Coleman, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said the committee has spent the session grappling with substantial issues like the death penalty and transgender identification. It was also questionable whether the measure had enough support to clear the committee, he said.

“We simply did not have the numbers in committee expressing a sentiment on behalf of bringing that to our agenda and taking action on it,” he said.

Currently the state counts inmates as residents of the town they are incarcerated in rather than where they lived prior to going to prison. The practice is usually called prison-based gerrymandering.

Coleman said it diminishes the political influence of voters in the state’s inner cities. Those voters tend to be from minority groups and prisons are typically located in rural, mostly-white communities, he said.

The issue is important to Connecticut and the nation as a whole, Dale Ho of the NAACP Legal Defense fund, told reporters on Monday. Counted together, the country’s prison population would be larger than the 15 smallest states in the nation and would represent five electoral votes, he said.

Last year three states—Maryland, Delaware and New York—adopted legislation to correct the problem. Despite the bill not clearing the Judiciary Committee before its deadline, Coleman said he hasn’t abandoned the cause.

During a Monday press conference on the issue, Coleman said he has brought the issue to the attention of the leadership of Reapportionment Committee, which was scheduled to meet later today.

He also said the language may find its way into another bill.

“I’m here this morning because many of us are still very much interested in pursuing the cause that this bill represents,” he said.

Read the full article here.