By ALEX MALM Whether inmates at the ACI should be Cranston residents or considered residents of their home town when establishing voting districts is debated just about every decade. Last week the Special Legislative Commission on Reappointment
Whether inmates at the ACI should be Cranston residents or considered residents of their home town when establishing voting districts is debated just about every decade.
Last week the Special Legislative Commission on Reappointment recommended to the General Assembly that inmates serving two years or less should be counted as residents of their home towns when establishing districts. Longer term inmates as those without home addresses would be counted as Cranston residents.
During the meeting Ryan Taylor from Election Data Services explained House District 20, represented by David Bennett, House District 15 which is represented by Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, Senate District 27 represented by Hanna Gallo, and Senate District 31 represented by Kendra Anderson would lose population under the proposal. Providence House and Senate districts would be the greatest gainers of population. House District 20 would see the biggest loss in population, according to Taylor.
The goal of the redistricting is for each Senate district to hit a target population of 28,878 plus or minus 5 percent and for the House districts to hit a population of 14,632 people.
“Because House District 20 contains the intake center, and the district was already 9.5 percent too small when the committee began the process there will be a ripple effect,” Taylor said. Taylor noted that the existing district population would decline about 5 percent with the changes to the prison census counting.
When Bennett was elected to represent District 20 in 2010 he said that the prison wasn’t part of the district, but that changed 10 years ago during the annual redistricting process.
While he said he has received about 20 letters a year from inmates, Bennett said he would prefer to be able to talk to constituents face-to-face.
"I rather knock on doors and talk to people," said Bennett. While it is unclear how the new district boundaries will shape up with the change, Bennett said he is okay however it shakes out.
”Whatever the Committee comes up with I’m happy with,” said Bennett.
Before the Commission voted on the proposed change, former State Rep. Stephen Ucci said, “This being my second go around at this I’m amazed by how different it has gone 10 years later, how much more open and transparent it's been,” said Ucci. He also made comments regarding the inmate counting proposal.
“In the beginning I was skeptical to understand the ACI issue, 10 years ago we said that's interesting and we kicked it off to listen here what we’ve done tonight it really sounds like a good compromise,” said Ucci. Also speaking was commission member and former State Sen. Harold Metts, who for years submitted legislation in the General Assembly to address the issue of prison gerrymandering. He said that each time it was held for further study.
“Finally after all these years thanks to this Commission this issue finally got the attention it deserves,” said Metts. Metts said that he feels the same way as advocates that anyone serving a prison sentence at the ACI should be considered as part of their home district but said however, after serving 30 years in this arena and obtaining some institutional knowledge and seeing some past efforts on this issue snuffed out any progress made is better than none at all and this is progress. He also noted that he hopes that advocacy will continue in the legislator to end prison gerrymandering in Rhode Island. One organization that has been vocal about the commission addressing prison gerrymandering is The Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC. In a statement following the hearing the PAC wrote, “This evening, the R.I. Redistricting Commission took a step in the right direction on prison gerrymandering. Now, it’s up to the General Assembly to approve this recommendation and pass a law to partly end prison gerrymandering to those who have been at the ACI for under two years. The work to end prison gerrymandering is not over.” Once a final recommendation is made by the Redistricting Commission regarding the district maps both the Senate and House will take a vote on it. The changes to the districts will be in effect for the 2022 elections. The current state reps and senators will remain in place until January, 2023. Once the districts are finalized Warwick and other cities and towns will use the district boundaries to draw the new city ward maps.
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