July 14, 2017
Quijano Slams Governor’s Veto of Legislation to End Prison-Based Gerrymandering
Practice of Miscounting Prison Population Skews Census Data, Deviates from Democratic Ideals
(TRENTON) – Assemblywoman Annette Quijano on Friday denounced Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of legislation to end a practice that gives areas of New Jersey where prisons are located an unfair advantage in the legislative redistricting process.
The bill (A-2937) would have required incarcerated individuals in New Jersey to be counted as residents of the communities they lived in prior to incarceration instead of using the prison as their address for legislative redistricting purposes. By vetoing the bill, the governor has chosen to perpetuate a system that distorts census data, which is used to determine how state legislative maps are drawn in New Jersey, and to refuse to comply with the Supreme Court’s “one person, one vote” doctrine, Quijano said.
“Prison gerrymandering exploits incarcerated men and women by using their presence to artificially inflate the population of a district where they cannot vote or reap the benefits of population-based funding the district receives,” said Quijano (D-Union), who in 1992 served on the New Jersey Redistricting Commission. “The purpose of redistricting is to ensure that each district receives equal representation in government. Counting the incarcerated population as residents of a community while denying them a voice in that community is morally wrong and deviates from the intent of this process.”
Furthermore, because the census and redistricting occur only once every 10 years, a person who is incarcerated during the census but leaves prison prior to the next census continues to be counted as an inmate, not as a resident of the community in which he or she actually lives, Quijano noted.
New Jersey has the nation’s highest racial disparity in its incarceration rate, according to a 2016 report from The Sentencing Project. Given the nature of this disparity, prison gerrymandering unfairly dilutes the voting power of minorities in New Jersey and thus their representation in government, Quijano said.
“Too often, because incarcerated black and Latino men and women from the urban communities that would most benefit from state and federal funding – which often is distributed based on the population reflected in the census – are counted as living in a low-population suburban or rural area far away from home, their neighborhoods are robbed of critical resources,” said Quijano. “The governor’s refusal to correct this injustice is shameful.”
At least four states – California, Delaware, Maryland and New York – have enacted legislation to end prison-based gerrymandering.