The political aspect of prison-based gerrymandering is often presented as being the only aspect of the phenomenon worth discussing. It’s important, of course, but so is the net financial and services gain to a community housing a prison when compared against the net financial and services loss to an inmate’s pre-incarceration community – the community where his children and other family members may still live. The direct negative financial and social impact of prison-based gerrymandering on an inmate’s true “home community” merits attention and discussion as much as the political aspect does.
The loss occurs when funding and services are diverted away from low-income homes where they are needed to provide for the security of single-parent youth and families; and land in the coffers of the financially stable community where an absent parent is being housed as a prison inmate.
In the 2011 Washington University Journal of Law & Policy report Locked Up and Counted Out: Bringing an End to Prison-based Gerrymandering, author John C. Drake makes these points:
D. Effect of Census Count on Redistricting
The policy of counting prisoners as residents of the communities in which they are imprisoned has profound consequences. It results in population data about communities—both the prison communities and the communities of origin—that, while relied on by policy makers, does not accurately reflect the needs of those communities.78 Depending on the specific state formula for distribution of tax revenue, counties with prisons can get bumps in education funding,79 sales tax revenue,80 and targeted funding for communities with sizable low-income populations.81 ?The imagination,? the Census Bureau itself has noted, ?is the only limit upon the use of the statistics that come out of the census.?82
… Critics such as the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund have said that counting prisoners toward a community‘s population for redistricting purposes ?artificially inflates the population count—and thus, the political influence—of the districts where prisons and jails are located.?96 The increase in population attributable to prisoners in rural prison towns comes at the expense of the urban communities from which prisoners typically hail, a dynamic that has led critics to call the effect prison- based gerrymandering.97
78. See WAGNER ET AL., supra note 74, at 3 (?The result of counting large external populations of prisoners as local residents leads to misleading conclusions about the size and growth of communities . . . . Counties that see prisons close their doors report that their Census populations declined when in fact their actual population did not. Conversely, population growth reported by some counties is due to the importation of prisoners to a new correctional institution.?).
79. Lotke & Wagner, supra note 64, at 601.
80. WAGNER ET AL., supra note 74, at 8.
81. Lotke & Wagner, supra note 64, at 604–05.
82. U.S. CENSUS BUREAU, U.S. CENSUS BUREAU REPORT: STRENGTH IN NUMBERS:
YOUR GUIDE TO CENSUS 2010 REDISTRICTING DATA FROM THE U.S. CENSUS BUREAU (2010), available at http://www.census.gov/rdo/pdf/StrengthInNumbers2010.pdf.
96. NAACP LEGAL DEF. AND EDUC. FUND, CAPTIVE CONSTITUENTS: PRISON-BASED GERRYMANDERING & THE DISTORTION OF OUR DEMOCRACY (2010), available at http:// naacpldf.org/files/publications/captive_constituents.pdf.
97. The moniker was assigned because of the increased political influence attained by communities with prison populations. NAACP LEGAL DEF. AND EDUC. FUND, supra note 96; see also PRISONERS OF THE CENSUS, http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org (last visited Sept. 23, 2010).