Prison-Based Gerrymandering: the practice of counting people who are incarcerated as residents of the communities in which they are imprisoned rather than their home communities.

Later this year, the redistricting process will begin and the states will begin drawing the districts that will determine the allocation of political power and representation for the next ten years. However, a practice known as prison-based gerrymandering threatens the principle of “one person, one vote” and risks unfairly diluting the political power of Black and urban communities, while inflating the power of white, rural ones. 


On this episode of Justice Above All, Thurgood Marshall Institute Senior Researcher Kesha Moore talks to the Executive Director of the Abolitionist Law Center, Saleem Holbrook, and Cara McClellan, Assistant Counsel at the Legal Defense Fund, about the inherent racism surrounding prison-based gerrymandering and how it continues to feed the prison industrial complex. 

Because of the explosion of mass incarceration and the racialized nature of mass incarceration, prison-based gerrymandering has massive electoral consequences. 

Nationwide, the state prison population more than quintupled in size between 1974 and 2000, mostly due to the “War on Drugs.” Black people are incarcerated in state prisons at a rate five times that of white people and Latinx people are imprisoned at a rate of 1.4 times higher than whites. Today, the prison population is over 2 million people and larger than 15 individual states. If the incarcerated population could form its own state, it would qualify for five votes in the Electoral College.

LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a non-partisan multi-disciplinary and collaborative think tank within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative.

About The Thurgood Marshall Institute

The Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multidisciplinary center within the Legal Defense Fund that complements LDF’s traditional litigation strengths and brings critical capabilities to the fight for racial justice, including research and targeted advocacy campaigns. 


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Learn More About Redistricting

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF)MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC released a comprehensive guide to redistricting, aimed at empowering Black, Latino, and Asian American communities, as well as other marginalized communities, to be actively engaged participants in one of the most important, once-a-decade events of American democracy.  

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