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New Minnesota law ends prison gerrymandering

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New Minnesota law ends prison gerrymandering

Nearly 20 states have either banned or restricted prison gerrymandering, not including Wisconsin.

May 24, 2024 3:05 PM CDT

By: Mike Moen, Public News Service

MINNEAPOLIS (Public News Service) – Minnesota’s legislative session wrapped up over the weekend with lawmakers banning so-called prison gerrymandering.

The provision was part of an elections policy bill quickly signed by Gov. Tim Walz.

Under such laws, state and local governments are required to count incarcerated people at their last home addresses when drawing new political boundaries after each census. Supporters say that prevents a community hosting a prison from gaining greater representation by including these individuals in their population totals.

During earlier debate, Esther Agbaje, DFL-Minneapolis, said when these protections aren’t in place, there’s a negative ripple effect.

“And what it also means is that the home communities where prisoners had come from have lost a portion of their political power in the state because of that population miscount,” she said.

Some Republican opponents argued that communities with prisons have to stretch their resources, and local governments shouldn’t lose out on funding if those held inside are counted as living elsewhere. But supporters of these law changes say this is increasingly becoming a bipartisan issue, with conservative states such as Montana implementing similar bans.

Organizations such as the Prison Policy Initiative say the movement reflects the need to fix a longstanding flaw within the U.S. Census Bureau.

“While the Census Bureau has not yet decided to act, Minnesota can use its power to reallocate the data that comes from the Census every ten years to ensure a more accurate count, ” Agbaje explained.

In situations where an incarcerated person has a last home address outside of Minnesota, or no home address at all, they’re excluded from redistricting counting but are still added to the statewide population total.

Nearly 20 states have either banned or restricted prison gerrymandering. Many local governments across the country have adopted bans as part of their redistricting.

This article originally appeared on Public News Service.

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