Cunningham, Cruz-Perez Bill to End Prison-Based Gerrymandering Clears Senate
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Sandra Cunningham and Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez, which would require incarcerated individuals in State and Federal facilities in New Jersey to be counted at their last known complete address, cleared the Senate today.
“In most cases, incarceration is only temporary. It is unfair for inmates to be considered part of a community where they’ll likely never live as a free citizen,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “Since incarcerated people cannot vote, their communities are their last line of defense to make their voices heard. It is unfair to count them as part of the district which they are imprisoned when upon their release they will more than likely return to the area from which they came.”
The bill, S-758, would change the way incarcerated individuals are counted for redistricting purposes. Currently, the Bureau of the Census counts inmates as residents of the towns where they are incarcerated. Under the bill, individuals would be counted in the community where they lived prior to incarceration.
“This process unfairly skews the districts and creates an imbalance in state representation. Camden is the most glaring example of this disparity,” said Senator Cruz-Perez (D-Camden/Gloucester). “The county has no prison facilities, but in 2018, there were 1652 individuals from Camden in State prisons. Those 1652 were counted as citizens of other counties, adding to the representation of those communities, despite hailing from Camden.”
The bill would require the State Department of Corrections to collect and maintain an electronic record of the residential address of each individual entering its custody and other Census-related data that is used in legislative reapportionment. This data would then be used by the Secretary of State and Legislative Reapportionment Commission to count individuals in the census tract of their last residence.
The current system leads to discrepancies in terms of how certain communities are represented in the State Legislature because the incarcerated population is not geographically distributed the same way as the general population throughout the State. In addition, inmates tend to go back to their original communities after incarceration.
Incarcerated individuals are prohibited from voting in all States but Vermont and Maine. In 2016 in New Jersey, 26,081 persons were imprisoned in State and federal facilities.
The bill was released from the Senate by a vote of 25-9.