Gerrymandering – No You Can’t Make Up Your Own Definitions

Posted on March 8, 2012 by


Rural prison in the United States. Image:

Gerrymandering. It’s a goofy word. Like, if you said, “Hey, have you heard about what happened with Gerry Mandering?” Someone might ask, “Who?”

Or you could say, “We really should do something about that gerrymandering problem.” Your friend might say, “Oh, when panhandlers stand on the median of a busy street and you’re scared they’ll get hurt?”

No. Because you can’t just make up definitions to suit your own purposes, no matter how goofy the word sounds. Just like you shouldn’t make up census boundaries with prison populations to suit your own political purposes. Oh, snap, that’s exactly the issue.

When prisoners are counted as residents of their place of incarceration, rather than where they actually lived before being locked up, it gives political clout to the state legislators in that district. For jails in urban cities this is not as big of a deal. The inmates most likely lived nearby and will return to homes nearby upon their release. However, in rural areas, the prison population can give a huge boost to an otherwise small-time politician, even though, get this, those prisoners generally can’t even vote.

For a great example of the lengths that someone will go to, read this post from Prisoners of the Census. There is a fantastic graphic that shows how the boundary of District 6 in Wyoming was stretched way, way out just to grab the prison population of 499 inmates, to shift the power. The issue can be particularly problematic in states that have both major urban centers and prisons located in rural areas, such as in New York and Florida. While the locals look at it as a boon, it’s truly a disservice to the rest of us and our political process. CrimeCents