“Prison-Based Gerrymandering” and the 3/5ths Compromise

                The U.S. Census Bureau counts incarcerated individuals at the locations where they are incarcerated rather than at their prior addresses.  This has political as well as economic consequences. 

                Most states’ state prisons are located hundreds of miles from urban centers where the majority of individuals are arrested, tried and convicted.  After convicted and sentenced, these individuals are often transported from the place they call home to distant prisons.  Additionally, because of the disproportionate imprisonment of people of color, including Latinos, the political landscape changes dramatically, that is, because political representation as well as Federal funding is based on the number of people in a district.  In terms of political office, especially locally, seats that otherwise would not exist are created in certain districts because of the number of people in the district, including and most importantly counting the incarcerated and, on the other hand, seats are lost or a party that doesn’t have a political advantage in a given district gains one, as well as the entire Caucus.  Needless to say, these districts that benefit from having the incarcerated counted in their districts want to have them counted there. 

     Because of the disproportionate imprisonment of people of color, the 3/5ths Compromise is implicated again.  As any student of American history should know, the 3/5ths Compromise was a Compromise between the North and the South concerning how slaves would, if at all, be counted for purposes of political representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.  The South wanted its slaves (“property”) counted.  The North did not, knowing that this would give the South disproportionate representation in the House, counting individuals that could not vote.  Finally, the Compromise was that every five slaves would be counted as three for purposes of representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Still, this weighed in favor of the South.

     Sometimes the connections aren’t obvious, but tell me there’s no connection between prison-based gerrymandering and the 3/5ths Compromise.



About William Eric Waters, aka Easy Waters

Award-winning poet, playwright and writer. Author of three books of poetry, "Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass: Remembrance of Things Past and Present"; "Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats"; "The Black Feminine Mystique," and a novel, "Streets of Rage." All four books are available on Amazon.com.
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