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Prison Gerrymandering Could Dilute Idahoans' Representation

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Thursday, October 28, 2021   

BOISE, Idaho -- As Idaho redraws the lines for its voting districts, the state's prison population could skew representation toward the places where people are incarcerated.

Lauren Bramwell, policy strategist for the ACLU of Idaho, said the practice is known as prison gerrymandering, where the state counts incarcerated people as residing at their place of confinement rather than their home address.

Bramwell noted Idaho's 23rd district east of Boise, represented by two representatives and one senator, has a large prison population.

"Other than District 23, every other district in Idaho is a loser because of prison gerrymandering," Bramwell asserted. "Their representational interests are diluted as a result of prison gerrymandering. So this isn't just an issue about representational interests of people who are incarcerated; this is a statewide issue."

Idaho has about 8,000 people in prison. Most states draw districts as Idaho does. However, eleven states, including Washington, have prohibited prison gerrymandering, counting incarcerated people according to the communities they come from.

Bramwell and the ACLU of Idaho believe it would be possible for the state's redistricting commission to change it.

"They can work with Idaho Department of Corrections," Bramwell suggested. "They can get the pre-incarceration data for all the folks who are incarcerated, and they can work with the Census Bureau, re-plot those individuals to their home addresses, and then we fix the issue of prison gerrymandering."

However, Bramwell noted one roadblock to this solution could be the Department of Corrections does not have the necessary data. She added the issue will be handed to state lawmakers soon.

"If we don't see the fix that we're asking for through the redistricting commission this go-around, then it's really working with the Idaho state Legislature to encourage them to have a legislative fix in time for 2030," Bramwell explained.


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