NAACP sues Pennsylvania to stop prison gerrymandering

Cherri Gregg
February 27, 2020 - 4:17 pm
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDEF) is leading the charge in a lawsuit against the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, filed Thursday in state court, to cease prison-based gerrymandering.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Pennsylvania and Philadelphia NAACP groups, students at the University of Pennsylvania, and several formerly incarcerated individuals. They claim it is unconstitutional to collect census data from inmates based on where they are temporarily imprisoned, rather than where they are actually from.

“Prison-based gerrymandering has the effect of inflating the political power of the predominantly white communities in rural districts, where most of Pennsylvania's prisons are located,” said LDEF attorney Cara McClellan. 

These gerrymandering practices result in less political representation for urban centers, and they misuse “the bodies of incarcerated people and harm voters in black and Latino communities,” she added.

Plaintiff Robert Holbrook, a former juvenile lifer, has been home in Philly for two years.

“But I am being counted as a resident of Greene County right now,” he said, located in the southwestern part of Pennsylvania.

While blacks and Latinos make up 16 percent of Pennsylvania's population, they represent more than 60 percent of the prisoners. 

“It’s syphoning resources from the ZIP code that these people were arrested, prosecuted and taken from,” echoed Philadelphia NAACP President Rodney Muhammad. 

The lawsuit asks a judge to end prison gerrymandering and reapportion legislative districts.