Thursday, May 13, 2021

Bill Abolishing Prison Gerrymandering Passes CT Legislature

UPDATE: On May 26, 2021, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed S.B. 753 into law, making Connecticut the 11th state to abolish prison gerrymandering.

After more than a decade of legislative attempts at similar legislation, a bill to end prison gerrymandering passed out of the Connecticut General Assembly on May 12, 2021, and now awaits action from Governor Ned Lamont. The legislation, S.B. 753, cleared the Connecticut House of Representatives with a bipartisan vote of 95-49. The bill passed the Connecticut State Senate on May 5, 2021, by a near-unanimous vote of 35-1. The bill now awaits Governor Lamont’s signature to become law.

The Peter Gruber Rule of Law Clinic (ROLC) has worked for months representing the Connecticut State Conference of the NAACP (NAACP CT) and the ACLU of Connecticut (ACLU CT) in efforts to end the practice through the passage of new legislation.

“Connecticut is just one step away from becoming the 11th state to abolish prison gerrymandering,” said Helia Bidad ’22, a law student intern with the ROLC. “This is long overdue, but we couldn’t be prouder to see Connecticut finally take this important step to right a gross racial injustice and restore fair representation to so many people.”

The bill was sponsored by Senator Gary Winfield, and floor debate on the legislation was led by Senator Mae Flexer in the Senate and Representative Dan Fox in the House of Representatives.

Due to the once-per-decade timing of the state’s redistricting process, 2021 is the last year for legislators to decide whether to change state law to count incarcerated people as residents of their home districts before legislative districts are drawn for the next decade.

“This is a historic moment for Connecticut,” said Corrie Betts, Criminal Justice Chair of NAACP CT. “Champions on this issue, including organizations like the NAACP and legislators like Sen. Gary Winfield, have been advocating to abolish prison gerrymandering for a decade. To see S.B. 753 pass both the House and Senate with bipartisan support is a culmination of all this advocacy and an enormous victory. We applaud the Connecticut General Assembly for finally abolishing this racist, unjust, and unlawful practice, and we look forward to Governor Lamont signing this bill into law.”

Advocates argue that by counting incarcerated people where they are imprisoned for the purpose of redistricting — instead of their home communities — Connecticut denies incarcerated people meaningful representation. Prison gerrymandering inflates the power of the districts where prisons are located, which are predominantly white and rural, at the expense of districts where incarcerated people reside, which are predominantly Black, Latinx, and urban. Ten states have already enacted legislation to end this practice, including New York, California, and New Jersey.

“For years, Connecticut has particularly undermined and under-resourced Black and brown communities through prison gerrymandering. We applaud the legislature for passing this bill to begin ending the racist, undemocratic practice of prison gerrymandering. To count incarcerated people as part of the communities where they are caged, rather than their home communities, violates human dignity and undermines our democracy,” said Claudine Fox, Interim Public Policy and Advocacy Director of ACLU CT. “For more than a decade, loved ones of incarcerated people have been fighting for the Connecticut legislature to reckon with the racist reality of prison gerrymandering, and today, legislators listened. We eagerly await Governor Lamont’s approval of the bill.”

NAACP CT and ACLU CT have long supported ending prison gerrymandering, and in early March, both organizations launched a campaign to support S.B. 753. The bill quickly gained the support of numerous legislators, received committee approval in March, and was overwhelmingly passed by the Senate on May 5, 2021. Other elected officials and organizations across Connecticut also announced their support for legislation to end prison gerrymandering this session, including:

  • Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill
  • Treasurer Shawn T. Wooden
  • Campaign Legal Center
  • Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut (CONECT)
  • Connecticut AFL-CIO
  • Common Cause in Connecticut
  • Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities
  • Connecticut State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition
  • Connecticut Voices for Children
  • Hartford Foundation for Public Giving
  • Hispanic Federation
  • Latino Justice PRLDEF
  • League of Women Voters of Connecticut
  • NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
  • Prison Policy Initiative
  • SEIU District 1199 NE

The Yale Law School Peter Gruber Rule of Law Clinic addresses issues of national security, anti-discrimination, climate change, and democracy through litigation, policy advocacy, and strategic planning.