Montana Redistribution Commission discusses where to allocate jailed people | state
HELENA – The District and Allocation Commission on Thursday held the first of two public hearings setting criteria on how to create state legislative and congressional districts, with a strong focus on how to count people in prison .
The commission heard comments from the public on the timing of the start of work on the creation of district maps, the criteria for how districts – legislative and congressional – would be drawn and on the reassignment of incarcerated persons.
2020 census data granted Montana a second congressional seat for the first time since 1993, but how to divide the state into two congressional districts – and how to represent Montana districts as well – relies on solid census data. . The District and Allocation Commission proposed, as part of its redistribution criteria, to reassign those imprisoned in Montana State Prison based on their original address rather than the address of the prison in Montana. Deer Lodge.
The commission is awaiting concrete census data before the process of developing district maps can begin. The publication of this data, which will be available to the public, is scheduled for August 16. From that point on, the commission has 90 days to map out what the districts might look like.
The next public hearing will take place at 8:30 am Friday in Helena with Zoom participation available.
Kendra Miller, a member of the commission, said in an interview that incarcerated persons are generally counted as residents of the prison or prison where they are sentenced. This gives an area with a large prison population a disproportionate number of people who cannot vote. People convicted of a felony who are incarcerated cannot vote in Montana.
There are approximately 1,600 inmates at Deer Lodge. The population of Powell County, where Deer Lodge is located, was 6,890 in 2019.
The process of reallocating incarcerated people across the state would rely on geocoding, Miller said. This process, also known as address geocoding, relies on information such as an address to place something or someone in a physical location. The plan, Miller said, would be to identify those imprisoned in their home quarters rather than in prison for the purpose of redistribution.
“One of the known complications is certainly that we may not be able to get the last known addresses of some inmates,” Miller said at the commission meeting.
If state officials can’t get the last known addresses of incarcerated people, they could possibly randomly assign them to counties in the state to make representation more equal.
Only two states have reallocated incarcerated people – New York and Maryland – to better distribute their imprisoned populations for the purpose of redistribution. Both states did so in 2010 using geocoding.
Aleks Kajstura, legal director of the Prison Policy Initiative, zoomed in on the meeting for public comment. Kajstura urged caution when using geocoding. In the case of New York and Maryland, Kajstura said some incarcerated information was incomplete, lacking a complete address or zip code, leading the geocoding software to reject the information and return the attribution even more difficult. In this case, she said, they counted those imprisoned in general, thus preventing them from being excluded.
“It’s better to count people in general so that you don’t exclude anyone,” Kajstura told Zoom.
Alex Miller is the county and state government reporter and can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 406-582-2648.