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Cunningham Bill to End Prison-Based Gerrymandering for Redistricting Purposes Goes to Governor

Senator Sandra Cunningham listens to testimony during the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing.

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham to change the way incarcerated individuals are counted for legislative redistricting purposes cleared the Assembly today. The bill requires that incarcerated individuals in State and Federal facilities in New Jersey to be counted at their last known complete address.

The bill, S-587, would require the State Department of Corrections to collect and maintain an electronic record of the residential address of each individual entering its custody. This record would contain the last known complete street address of each individual prior to incarceration, the individual’s race, whether the individual is of Hispanic or Latino origin, and whether the person is over the age of 18. The classification of an individual’s race, ethnic origin, and age would be the same as used by the United States Bureau of the Census.

“It is unfair for inmates to be considered part of a community where they’ll likely never live as a free citizen. This bill will correct the issue and create a better and fairer process of representation across the state,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “In many cases, incarceration is only temporary, which is why an inmate’s actual, chosen address should be the address counted. These individuals have special personal and professional ties to their own community and they should not be considered part of a community in which they live temporarily. This process also unfairly skews the districts and creates an imbalance when it comes to representation.”

Currently, the Bureau of the Census counts inmates as residents of the towns where they are incarcerated. Census data is used for multiple purposes, including legislative apportionment. This bill would also provide that legislative districts be drawn to meet equal population requirements.

Because the incarcerated population is not geographically distributed the same way as the general population throughout the State, and because inmates tend to go back to their original communities after incarceration, the current system leads to discrepancies in terms of how communities are represented in the State Legislature.

Incarcerated individuals are prohibited from voting in all States but Vermont and Maine. In 2016 in New Jersey, 26,081 persons were imprisoned in State and federal facilities.

S-587 cleared the Assembly 47-28 and cleared the Senate 21-15 in November of last year. The bill now goes to the Governor’s desk.

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