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NAACP Suing Pennsylvania, Claiming Method Of Counting Prisoners Dilutes African-American Political Clout

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Right now, the 46,000 people in state prisons are residents of the communities in which those prisons are located, instead of their home towns.

It's called prison-based gerrymandering, and critics say it's illegal.

"Prison-based gerrymandering is what happens when states decide to allocate individuals on the basis of where they happen to be at the time, not on the basis of their hometown," says University of Pittsburgh political science Prof. Chris Bonneau.

Bonneau said this disproportionately affects African Americans.

"African Americans are only 11 percent of the population, but they are 46 percent of the incarcerated population," Bonneau said.

The NAACP argues that by counting black prisoners as residents of all-white rural areas, instead of their home communities, you essentially dilute the political clout of African Americans and violate the state Constitution.

And that hurts urban areas like Pittsburgh, which need more people to increase eligibility for government dollars and more.

"If there are fewer residents, that means when you are drawing legislative districts, these people are going to be undercounted even though this is where these people live," said Bonneau.

The 70-page complaint filed in Commonwealth Court alleges that the current system arbitrarily inflates the political power of white voters in rural areas at the expense of minority voters in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

While the NAACP is asking the state courts to intervene in Pennsylvania, at least five states have outlawed prison-based gerrymandering: California, Delaware, Maryland, New York, and Washington.

This is not about voting since every state except Maine & Vermont forbids felons in prison serving their time from voting while in prison, said Bonneau.

It's about where to count individuals who are entitled to be counted.

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