New Jersey to Count Prisoners at Home When Drawing District Lines

By: - January 22, 2020 12:00 am

A jail in San Jose, California. New Jersey joined the Golden State to become the seventh state to count prisoners in their hometowns for districting purposes. Ben Margot/The Associated Press

New Jersey became the seventh state that will use prisoners’ home addresses rather than the places where they are incarcerated to draw legislative districts when Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill into law Tuesday.

“By requiring incarcerated individuals to be counted at their last known residential address for legislative redistricting purposes, the bill would eliminate the inequity,” Democratic state Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter said in a statement.

Democratic state Sen. Nilsa Cruz-Perez said 1,652 prisoners from Camden, which she represents, could now be counted there instead of in prison-hosting communities elsewhere.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, vetoed a similar bill in 2017, saying the idea “smacks of political opportunism.”

The legislation is expected to restore political power to urban, usually Democratic areas where prisoners often come from, and away from more conservative rural areas that tend to host prisons.

The other states are California, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New York and Washington.

The U.S. Census Bureau has made the effort easier by agreeing to break out prison populations for the results of the 2020 census so states can decide where to count prisoners during redistricting.

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Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson

Tim Henderson covers demographics for Stateline. He has been a reporter at the Miami Herald, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Journal News.