Prison Data

Prison gerrymandering occurs when people who are incarcerated are counted by the Census Bureau in their place of incarceration rather than in their home communities.

Districts drawn with this distorted residency data inflate the value of every vote cast in a district where a prison or jail is located, while diluting the voting power of every person living outside of those districts.

Pennsylvania law allows non-felon, incarcerated persons to vote, but requires that they register to vote in their last place of residence. The law states that “no individual who is confined in a penal institution shall be deemed a resident of the election district where the institution is located. The individual shall be deemed to reside where the individual was last registered before being confined in the penal institution.”

This directly contradicts the current Census practice of counting individuals in their places of incarceration.

Prison gerrymandering also contradicts the federal one person, one vote requirement. The resulting inequities impact every corner of the Commonwealth. Of the seven counties with the highest per-capita incarceration rates, five are rural: Venango, Jefferson, Warren, Clearfield, and Fayette. Another, Philadelphia, is urban. The seventh is Dauphin County, home to Pennsylvania’s capital city.

Graphic Source

Where PA Stands

Many states are moving to address this issue through law or litigation. In 2021, the PA Legislative Reapportionment Commission voted (3-2) to reallocate residency data of those incarcerated in state prisons back to their home communities. A second vote adjusted this to reallocate only those with sentences shorter than ten years.

While this was an improvement, it is only a partial and temporary solution. A permanent solution would require reallocation of residency data for all who have a known prior Pennsylvania address.

Learn more:

Ending Prison Gerrymandering, the Public Interest Law Center

Redistricting Data Hub Prison Gerrymandering, Villanova University

Pennsylvania Prison Gerrymandering Project, Prison Policy Initiative