(Washington, DC) – Counting incarcerated individuals at their carceral address rather than their home address unjustly shifts political power from communities of color to white, rural communities where prisons are disproportionately located and further entrenches racial injustices perpetuated by the criminal legal system, according to an amicus brief filed Wednesday by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Hogan Lovells law firm.
The amicus brief was filed on behalf of Virginia State Conference NAACP, RISE for Youth, and Virginia Interfaith Center for Policy in support of Virginia State respondents in Adkins, et al. v. Virginia Redistricting Commission, et al.,. The brief supports current Virginia law protecting the rights of incarcerated individuals and takes a positive step forward in redistricting away from the harmful practice of prison gerrymandering.
“We must advocate now more than ever to make sure incarcerated individuals in Virginia have their voices heard,” said Ajay Saini, senior counsel with the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Artificially inflating representation of predominantly white districts to include incarcerated individuals unjustly shifts power and influence at the expense of predominantly Black and Brown communities who deserve to have their voices recognized, appropriately allocated and counted.
The following are quotes from two of the organizational plaintiffs involved in the case:
“Last year the Virginia NAACP successfully advocated to end prison gerrymandering in Virginia, and we are continuing that fight with this action today,” said Robert N. Barnette, Jr., president of the Virginia State Conference NAACP. “The Virginia NAACP will not remain silent while some politicians work to restore a practice reminiscent of the infamous three-fifths clause.”
“Virginians most impacted by justice system involvement are from communities of color, plagued by poverty, and lacking the needed resources and opportunities for youth and families to thrive ” said Valerie Slater, executive director of RISE for Youth. “Ensuring incarcerated youth are counted in the communities they are from is one concrete way to ensure their needs are recognized along with those of their families fighting for equity in representation and resource apportionment. Youth incarcerated, sometimes before they are even able to exercise any civic right, must not be used to pad the population of rural white communities in order to bolster their own political power while ignoring the needs of the communities those same youth will return to upon release.”
Virginia rightly ended prison gerrymandering in 2020, passing a law that requires incarcerated individuals to be counted at their home or last known address, rather than their carceral address. The lawsuit challenging the new Virginia law was brought by white rural voters and a state senator who argue that their own political power is being diminished.
12 states including Virginia have taken action to end the harmful practice of prison gerrymandering in the redistricting process. Rejecting the petition will allow respondents to implement standards that ensure that 2020 will be the fairest redistricting cycle in the history of Virginia.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of voting rights, criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and hate crimes. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org.