On Monday, a coalition of Colorado-based civil rights organizations published a letter urging the Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions to reallocate the prison population to their home communities, in order to prevent racial bias from contaminating the new maps for Colorado congressional and legislative districts.
“The pattern and practice of redistricting has been historically plagued with racially-biased impacts, including splitting of Black and Brown communities to dilute their political influence, and drawing contorted district boundaries to segregate non-whites and to dilute their political influence,” the letter says. “Prison gerrymandering is another example of how the redistricting process has negatively impacted Black and Brown people and their home communities.”
The Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions were formed to prevent partisan meddling during the 2021 redistricting process. With Colorado most likely gaining an eighth congressional district, the process has been subject to heated debate from both sides of the aisle.
In the letter, which was jointly written by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC), Colorado Black Women for Political Action, NAACP Denver, and several other groups, urged the redistricting commissions to reallocate people in state prisons to their home districts, rather than to the district where the prison is located.
Most prison inmates do not live in the place where they are incarcerated, According to a memo from the CCJRC. While the majority of inmates are from urban areas, the prisons are mostly located in rural locations.
“This unfair transfer of political influence and representation affects conservative and liberal communities alike,” the letter states. “For example, Colorado Springs sends more people to state prison than any other county yet doesn’t have a state prison. Neither do Arapahoe, Adams, Larimer, Douglas, Boulder, Mesa, or Weld counties where most people in prison are from.
Additionally, the coalition stated that people of color are overrepresented in the U.S. prison population. Because of this, prison gerrymandering disproportionately impacts Black and Brown communities.
The proposal to reallocate Colorado’s prison population received heavy scrutiny early last year, when a bill was proposed in the Colorado Legislature to reallocate inmates for the federal census bureau. The bill, HB20-1010, passed with bipartisan support and was signed by Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO) in March 2020.
Since the law only applies to the federal census, the redistricting commissions are not legally bound by it. However, the coalition argues that the commissions should follow HB20-1010’s precedent.
“It is extremely relevant that this issue has been thoroughly vetted as to the policy and there were no community groups, elections officials, or local governments that opposed it during the legislative process,” the letter says. “It was passed on a bi-partisan vote and signed into law.”
Additionally, a similar reallocation process is already practiced by the U.S. Armed Forces, which allocates members in the census based on their place of residency, not where they are assigned.
“Surely, this is not a manipulation of the census data; it is an accommodation that recognizes servicemembers are temporarily away from home,” the letter reads. “We submit people in prison are also temporarily away from home and therefore should also be reallocated to their home communities for purposes of redistricting.”
According to a press release, the redistricting commissions are expected to vote on the proposal on Thursday.
Read the full letter here.