Texas Republicans use prison gerrymandering to boost GOP power
The former mayor of Palestine, Texas, which is located in Anderson County, believes it’s only right that counties like his get something more out of their detainees. “They should be counted here. If Houston wants that fix, then build those [prison] units in Houston,” Steve Presley told the Dallas Morning News. Of the male state prisons located in Anderson County, more than 13,000 men are incarcerated, a majority of whom are either Black or Latino. Nearly half of Anderson County’s 11,430 Black residents are behind bars. This not only boosts the population of a rural area that has seen many residents move away but also boosts diversity. Incarcerated people alone make up 23% of Anderson County’s population.
So, what does that mean for redistricting? According to the Dallas Morning News, 46 of the 232 counties that voted for Trump in 2020 would shrink in population were incarcerated people not counted as residents, accounting for a loss of more than 104,000 people. If incarcerated people were to be counted as residents of where they actually live, Texas’ five largest counties would see a spike in population instead. Texas’ present redistricting maps dilutes power in metropolitan areas and boosts power in what the Dallas Morning News deemed “prison towns,” to say nothing of the way GOP lawmakers have disenfranchised voters of color. This has led to numerous lawsuits being filed against the state. An additional suit was filed last month on behalf of Damon James Wilson, who is incarcerated at William P. Clements Unit in Amarillo. In reality, he lives more than 350 miles away in Grand Prairie—and wants to be counted among the population at his home rather than where he’s being detained.
He’s not the only one hoping to dismantle Texas’ shameful practice of counting imprisoned people as residents based on where they’ve been incarcerated. State Rep. Jasmine Crockett told the Dallas Morning News she’s willing to fight prison gerrymandering not just in Texas but around the country. “I plan to pursue [this], federally,” Crockett said. “I don’t believe it should be a state-specific issue. It’s about doing things that are fair.” According to Prison Policy Initiative, just 11 states have ended prison gerrymandering. As alarming as Texas’ latest redistricting moves have been, it sadly isn’t the only state doing the wrong thing for those who are currently or have ever been incarcerated.