PROVIDENCE — Nearly half of the inmates at Rhode Island prisons are expected to be released in less than a year or are not yet sentenced, a consultant told the state redistricting commission Monday night.
The Special Commission on Reapportionment reviewed that new data amid a debate about whether Rhode Island should begin counting inmates at their home addresses, rather than at the state Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston.
Advocates are calling for an end to “prison gerrymandering,” saying the current system provides outsized representation for the few districts with prisons while diminishing representation for urban districts with large numbers of people of color. But Cranston officials defend the current system, arguing that the city provides public services, such as fire and police department services, to inmates at the ACI.
Election Data Services president Kimball W. Brace, the state’s redistricting consultant, on Monday told the commission that of the 2,618 inmates at the ACI:
- 24 percent are not yet sentenced
- 24 percent are expected to be released in less than 1 year
- 15 percent are expected to be released in 1 to 2 years
- 10 percent are expected to be released in 3 to 5 years
- 7 percent are expected to be released in 6 to 9 years
- 9 percent are expected to be released in 10 years or more
- 10 percent will never be released
- 1 percent “undetermined”
“You are seeing a very short-term situation that’s going on at the ACI, with the exception that there are some lifers down there, but they are a small number,” Brace said. “So that’s one additional factor as we look at this issue of prison gerrymandering and what’s doable or possible.”
He noted that consultants only have information about the home addresses of 1,927 of the 2,618 inmates. But among those “geocoded” inmates, 21 percent have not been sentenced and 25 percent are expected to be released in less than 1 year, he said.
Brace told the commission that the ACI that some of the inmate addresses are “questionable.” Also, he said that Connecticut was able to track inmates after they left prison and it found that about 60 percent of those prisoners did not go back to the home addresses they originally provided.
“That number you spoke of in Connecticut kind of hit home for me,” said Senator Gordon E. Rogers, a Foster Republican on the redistricting commission. “Let’s say somebody does 10 years, they’ll put an address going in and as that time moves forward, that may no longer be a residence, it could be a Cumberland Farms. That’s alarming to me.”
Another commission member, former Cranston City Council member Maria Bucci, asked why the commission was focused changing where it counts inmates at the ACI in Cranston and not those held at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls.
Brace said Wyatt, a nonprofit prison run by a quasi-public corporation, holds about 630 inmates in the custody of federal agencies such as the US Marshals Service and Immigration Customs Enforcement. And he said states take various approaches to counting such inmates for redistricting purposes.
Steven Brown, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, told the commission that Rhode Island is doing better than other states, such as Montana and Nevada, when it comes to finding the home addresses for inmates for redistricting purposes. “It’s not going to be perfect,” he said. “But you do the best you can.”
Also, Brown said, “It’s critical to keep in mind that the General Assembly itself, in terms of voting law, also made a choice, and its choice was to decide that for the purposes of voting if you at the ACI and voting you do not vote from Cranston – you vote from where you came from. And that is the state law. So this effort to address prison gerrymandering is really trying to comply with the goal of state law as its written.”
The commission plans to meet again at 6 p.m. Thursday at the State House. Brace said he will present “initial district concepts and plans” for House and Senate districts at that meeting. He said the new congressional district maps are “fairly easy to do” and will be addressed later.