NAACP Sues Connecticut to Stop 'Prison Gerrymandering'

Incarcerated prisoners are counted where they're jailed for representation purposes, even though they usually cannot vote.


Angelo Gilardelli /

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is suing Connecticut to stop the practice of counting prisoners as though they're residents of the districts where they're incarcerated, a practice that inflates the political power of some parts of the state at the expense of others.

Felons serving prison time generally cannot legally vote, but they still count in the census and for determining district boundaries. In Connecticut, they were counted in the state's 2011 redistricting plan as residents of the prison facility instead of where they came from.

The NAACP lawsuit calls this "prison gerrymandering." The end result is that prisoners, disproportionally black and Latino, end up being counted as residents in the rural areas where the jails are concentrated. This increases the population used to determine district boundaries of the prisoner-heavy areas without actually increasing the number of voters, and takes numbers away from the cities, like Hartford and New Haven, where these prisoners come from.

The suit notes that Connecticut's laws don't require that prisoners be counted this way; the state's Reapportionment Commission made the choice. The lawsuit also notes that on the rare occasions when people in Connecticut are incarcerated yet also eligible to vote, they are required to cast ballots for races in their home districts, not the districts where they're incarcerated.

The end result is a 10- to 15-percent variance in district populations. A state House district in Connecticut has an average of around 23,670 residents. In the districts with the prisons, about 1,000 to 2,000 people cannot vote due to incarceration.

The NAACP argues that this an unbalanced representation system violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The group is asking the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut to stop the state from using the 2001 plan.

It's worth noting that the federal census does the same thing. In February the Census Bureau announced it would use a person's "usual residence" for the 2020 count. That means where a person lives and sleeps much of the time, not his or her legal residence. So people who are incarcerated will be classified as being residents of the congressional districts where they are jailed.

Most states do the same thing too. Indeed, only four states—Maryland, Delaware, New York, and California—count prison inmates as residents of their home communities for redistricting purposes.

Read the lawsuit here.