NorthJersey.com's Ashley Balcerzak Reports
Amid this decade's census count — which affects how U.S. congressional districts are drawn — New Jersey lawmakers are grappling with the question: Where do prisoners count?
New Jersey and a majority of states currently count incarcerated people in the districts where the prisons are, boosting population numbers in those districts at the expense of their home areas. Critics call the practice "prison gerrymandering."
The New Jersey Assembly Budget Committee on Monday advanced a bill, 7-4, that would count prisoners in the last known address before they were incarcerated, joining California, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New York and Washington, according to a tally by the Prison Policy Initiative, which tracks the issue. The bill passed the Senate in February, largely on party lines.
"We count prisoners for their bodies and deny them the right to vote, giving outsized political power to the rest of the prison district's population," said Henal Patel, associate counsel for the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, which lobbies in favor of the bill. "We really only have this tiny window to pass the legislation, or it's moot for another 10 years after the maps are drawn. New Jersey is one of the first states to start redistricting."