Friday, March 12, 2021

ROLC Joins NAACP and ACLU to Abolish Prison Gerrymandering in CT

On March 10, 2021, the Connecticut State Conference of the NAACP (NAACP CT) and the ACLU of Connecticut (ACLU CT) publicly launched a campaign to abolish prison gerrymandering in Connecticut in the 2021 Legislative Session. This launch occurred on the same day as the Government Administration and Elections Committee’s public hearing on its legislation to abolish prison gerrymandering, S.B. 753.

The NAACP CT and the ACLU CT are represented by the Peter Gruber Rule of Law Clinic (ROLC) at Yale Law School.

By counting incarcerated people where they are imprisoned for the purpose of redistricting — instead of their home communities — Connecticut denies incarcerated people meaningful representation, according to those involved. Such prison gerrymandering inflates the power of the districts where prisons are located, which are predominantly white and rural, at the expense of the districts where incarcerated people reside, which are predominantly Black, Latinx, and urban. Ten states have enacted legislation to end the practice.

“Prison gerrymandering has long been used to strip power from Black communities, denying them fair representation,” said Scot X. Esdaile, President of the NAACP CT. “This discriminatory practice has no place in Connecticut, and our elected officials must finally take action to rid the state of this legacy of racial oppression once and for all.”

This legislative session is Connecticut’s final opportunity to abolish prison gerrymandering before the state’s 2021 redistricting process determines legislative and congressional maps for the next decade.

“For over two years, the Rule of Law Clinic has represented the NAACP in their fight to abolish prison gerrymandering, whether in federal court or the halls of the Connecticut Legislature,” said Alex Boudreau ’21, a law student intern with the ROLC. “We are committed to helping however we can to ensure that Connecticut is the next state in the nation to end prison gerrymandering.”

As part of the campaign to abolish prison gerrymandering in Connecticut, Natasha Brunstein ’22 from the ROLC testified in support of S.B. 753 at the Government Administration and Elections Committee’s public hearing.

Natasha Brunstein
Natasha Brunstein ’22 testified at a public hearing as part of a campaign to abolish prison gerrymandering in Connecticut.

“We respectfully ask you to consider the unconstitutionality of prison gerrymandering and the disproportionate impact on minority communities, and to seize this last opportunity before redistricting to enact legislation ending this practice,” Brunstein said in her testimony.

“We are proud to stand alongside the NAACP in this critical campaign to end prison gerrymandering,” said Claudine Fox, Interim Public Policy and Advocacy Director of the ACLU CT. “One person, one vote is a foundational principle of our democracy. To live by our core ideals, Connecticut must end the racist and undemocratic practice of prison gerrymandering.”

In January, multiple legislators introduced legislation in the Connecticut General Assembly to ban prison gerrymandering. On February 10, the Government Administration and Elections Committee voted to draft a bill to ban prison gerrymandering. The Government Administration and Elections Committee’s March 10, 2021 public hearing on S.B. 753 included testimony from individuals and organizations strongly in support of the bill. 

Elected officials and nonprofit organizations across Connecticut have already announced their support for legislation to end prison gerrymandering this session including:

  • Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill
  • Treasurer Shawn T. Wooden
  • Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney
  • Speaker of the House Matt Ritter
  • Senator Mae Flexer, Co-Chair of Government Administration and Elections Committee
  • Senator Gary Winfield, Co-Chair of Judiciary Committee
  • Representative Steven Stafstrom, Co-Chair of Judiciary Committee
  • Senator Will Haskell, Vice Chair of Government Administration and Elections Committee
  • Representative Matt Blumenthal ’15, Vice Chair of Judiciary Committee
  • Senator Derek Slap
  • Representative Quentin “Q” Phipps
  • Representative Christopher Rosario
  • Representative Patricia Dillon
  • Representative Jillian Gilchrest
  • Representative Christine Palm
  • League of Women Voters of Connecticut
  • Common Cause in Connecticut
  • LatinoJustice PRLDEF
  • SEIU 1199 NE
  • Connecticut AFL-CIO
  • New Haven Rising
  • Prison Policy Initiative
  • Criminal Justice Reform Team of CONECT

“Connecticut has the opportunity to lead on voting rights and on racial justice,” said Senator Mae Flexer, Co-Chair of the Government Administration and Elections Committee. “It’s time to abolish prison gerrymandering so that individuals are counted as residents of the communities where they are actually from. I look forward to working with the NAACP and the ACLU to finally right this historic wrong.”

The NAACP CT and ACLU CT have indicated that they look forward to the Connecticut General Assembly’s further consideration and passage of the vital legislation regarding prison gerrymandering in the coming months.

“America’s shameful past of counting Black Americans as three-fifths cannot be its present,” said Representative Quentin “Q” Phipps. “Connecticut leaders must fulfill their promise to heed the public’s overwhelming calls for racial justice and prioritize the passage of legislation ending prison gerrymandering now.”

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