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Cunningham Bill to End Prison-Based Gerrymandering Goes to the Governor

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Sandra Cunningham, which would require incarcerated individuals in State and Federal facilities in New Jersey to be counted at their last known complete address, cleared the Senate today and was sent to the Governor for final approval.


“In most cases, incarceration is only temporary. It is unfair for inmates to be considered part of a community where they’ll likely never live as a free citizen,” said Senator Cunningham (D-Hudson). “Since incarcerated people cannot vote, their communities are their last line of defense to make their voices heard. It is unfair to count them as part of the district which they are imprisoned when upon their release they will more than likely return to the area from which they came.”


The bill, S-3964, requires incarcerated individuals from the state to be counted at their residential address for municipal, county, and congressional redistricting purposes and for apportionment of regional school district board of education members.


Currently, the Bureau of the Census counts inmates as residents of the towns where they are incarcerated. Under the bill, individuals would be counted in the community where they lived prior to incarceration.


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


Incarcerated individuals are prohibited from voting throughout the United States, except in Vermont, Maine and the District of Columbia. In 2016 in New Jersey, 26,081 persons were imprisoned in State and federal facilities.


The bill builds upon legislation enacted in January 2020, which requires incarcerated individuals to be counted at their home address for the purpose of legislative redistricting.


The bill was released from the Senate by a vote of 36-2 and now heads to the Governor for final approval.