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High gas prices are not slowing down Memorial Day travel, early voting starts tomorrow in Nevada, and Oregon activists seek accountability for dioxin contamination in low-income Eugene.

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Despite Past Attempts, OR Not Among States to End Prison Gerrymandering

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Wednesday, September 1, 2021   

PORTLAND, Ore. - Local prison populations can affect how voting districts will be drawn.

Eleven states, including Washington, have reconsidered where incarcerated people are counted - where they are from, not where they are serving time. However, Oregon is not one of them. The issue has become more pressing as redistricting goes into full swing.

Wanda Bertram, communication strategist at the Prison Policy Initiative, described how prison gerrymandering create unequal representation.

"If I am in one district that's close to the prison, and you're in another district that's across town and you don't live close to the prison, I'm going to end up with, relatively speaking, more access to political representation than you do," she said, "because the actual size of my district has been 'padded' by incarcerated people."

In Washington state, people in prison will be counted as residents of their home address. Bertram said this puts political power back into these communities, which especially is important for areas over-represented in prisons. She noted that Oregon has introduced several measures, including in 2019, that would end so-called "prison gerrymandering" - but none has passed.

The Prison Policy Initiative believes it would be ideal if the Census Bureau changed its policy to count incarcerated people as residents of the communities they call home. Bertram noted that it's also too late for states such as Oregon to end prison gerrymandering, since the legislative session already is over for the year.

"We're shifting our focus to urge cities and counties heavily impacted by prison gerrymandering to take action at the local level," she said, "because counties and cities in most states have the ability to decide to not count incarcerated people when they redistrict."

In the 2010 census, 28% of Pendleton's population and 12% of Salem's were made up of incarcerated people. Pendleton Mayor John Turner said by email that no one in the community has expressed concern about this issue. The Prison Policy Initiative also is asking states to "spread out" their prison population so it isn't overrepresented in certain communities. The Legislative Policy and Research Office in Oregon said the state can't do this because the Legislature didn't pass a measure allowing it.


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