I am writing in response to Kenneth J. Cooper’s June 9 article “Prison inmates at issue in redrawing political districts.”
It is commendable that the Banner is highlighting the issue of counting inmates and its implications of shifting political and economic power from the inmate’s original community to his incarcerated community.
This practice is the essential nature of prison-based gerrymandering. Cooper was tactful in bringing to bear the expert analysis of prison-based gerrymandering and its intricate link to the districting process as expressed by Peter Wagner and Brenda Wright.
I wish Mr. Cooper had also consulted social justice activists in the Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury areas who have been working to alter the practice of prison-based gerrymandering in collaboration with the Massachusetts redistricting committee for some time now.
Unfortunately, what Mr. Cooper did not mention is the existential implications of prison-based gerrymandering on the inmates’ families, communities and the larger society. In the United States prison system, blacks make up more than 56 percent of the incarcerated population and are only 13 percent of the total population. In Massachusetts, blacks are between 6-7 percent of the total Massachusetts population but are approximately 29 percent of the total incarcerated population.
The immediate implications of extreme incarceration for the black community and the urban areas are the shifting of political and economic power to the suburban areas where more than 75 percent of the prisons in the United States are constructed and located.
For the urban areas, this means a reduction in funding, resources and programs. Despite the high rate of incarceration, urban areas are still plagued with increases in crime, violence, recidivism and dysfunctional family structures.
To alter the practice and consequences of prison-based gerrymandering on the minority communities, The Center for Church and Prison will continue to work with several social justice organizations in Boston and to that end recently held a public forum “Counting Inmates in the Wrong Place: Black Community Losing Power.”
Rev. George Walters-Sleyon
The Center for Church and Prison