While nearly a third of New Mexico state prisoners who disclosed where they lived before their incarceration gave addresses in Albuquerque, in the nation’s decennial census they are counted as living in small towns and rural areas. About a quarter of New Mexico’s population lives in Albuquerque, so it’s no surprise to find a prevalence of residents of New Mexico’s largest city in the correctional system.
But correctional data obtained by New Mexico In Depth suggests that the city’s voting power is diffused in small towns and rural areas where New Mexico’s prisons are located, a practice that advocates of justice reform criminal call “the gerrymandering of prisons”. This is where prison communities – often rural and, nationally, whiter – benefit, as prisoners from elsewhere increase their populations without being allowed to vote.
Advocates are pushing New Mexico to end this practice in the coming months as the state’s new Citizen Redistribution Committee and state lawmakers participate in a ten-year redistribution that will shape the political landscape of New Mexico. -Mexico for years to come.
And at least one of them says that the last addresses that inmates give to correctional officers when they enter jail could serve that purpose. The ideal solution would be for the Department of Corrections to hand over the same files it gave in-depth New Mexico to the Citizen Redistribution Committee, said Mario Jimenez, campaign manager for Common Cause New Mexico.
If the committee asked for these records, the ministry “would absolutely share them with them,” Corrections spokesman Eric Harrison wrote in an email.
Samantha Osaki, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said ending the practice of counting prisoners in areas where they are held would create a more equitable redistribution process.
“Residents of Bernalillo County who are already suffering from the loss of relatives, friends and neighbors due to mass incarceration then suffer doubly from the loss of political representation,” Osaki said.
New Mexico In Depth obtained the last addresses of 5,082 detainees after filing a request for a case. Corrections initially refused to release the information, but turned over the records after the New Mexico attorney general’s office discovered that the department inappropriately denied the request.
The ministry created the list of addresses in mid-July. As of September 20, the state’s prison population was 5,670. Harrison attributed the variance to fluctuations in the prison population and the fact that addresses are self-disclosed upon admission, meaning some inmates did not indicate where they lived prior to incarceration.
The addresses include halfway houses and halfway houses and 37 “homeless” entrances. And 6% are out of state addresses in Arizona, Texas, and a few other states.
The data provided by the agency is accompanied by a warning. A disclosure attached to the files stated that “due diligence was applied to ensure the accuracy of the data in the report”, but “due to inconsistencies and errors over decades of data entry … it is virtually impossible to conclude that all of this data is entirely correct. “
Data collection has long been a problem in New Mexico. For example, it’s unclear exactly what the exact racial impacts of jail gerrymandering are in New Mexico, as the state does not track the race or ethnicity of prisoners. Lawyers say that nationwide, a significant portion of prisoners in urban areas who increase populations of smaller and more rural areas when censused are people of color.
Data shows that the vast majority of New Mexico prisoner addresses — 84 percent — do not come from state prison towns; 31% are in Albuquerque, which does not have a jail.
All of New Mexico’s prison towns developed from an influx of prisoners. Incarcerated individuals make up substantial portions of the local populations in some New Mexico communities with prisons. In one case, more than two in ten residents are behind bars; and in another, more than one in ten are. But only a handful of people incarcerated in state prisons have disclosed having lived in these cities before their incarceration.
Santa Rosa, host of the Guadalupe County Correctional Center, has a total population of 2,850 and an incarcerated population of 585 at the 2020 census, which means the city is 20.5% incarcerated. According to prison service data, there are five state prison inmates with addresses in Santa Rosa.
Clayton, host of the Northeastern New Mexico Correctional Facility, has a total population of 2,643 with 15.5% incarcerated. There are six state prison inmates with Clayton addresses.
Grants, which houses both the Western New Mexico Correctional Facility and the Northwestern New Mexico Correctional Center, has about 7.7% incarcerations, with 871 inmates between the two prisons. There are 28 inmates held in state prisons with Grants addresses.
In Hobbs, home to the state’s largest prison, inmates make up 3% of the population. There are 101 prisoners who have listed Hobbs’ addresses, which is just under 10% of the size of the prison population.
A number of other prisons are located just outside the city or town limits in the unincorporated areas of counties.
In addition to shifting political power away from non-prison towns, prison populations can distort political power within communities if city leaders do not ensure that political maps are drawn to account for prisoners who are not. not entitled to vote. Indeed, if prisoners are included in the local population when drawing up maps of local political districts, a smaller group of residents is able to elect local officials in the prison district than in other districts.
The ideal solution, advocates say, would be for the Census Bureau to count inmates as residents of their home community. In the absence of this change, states can enact laws ending the practice, as many have done in recent years.
New Mexico does not have a law on how to avoid the greater political power held by prison districts. But advocates say the state could avoid concentrating prison populations in a few districts by counting prisoners at their last known address, distributing the prison population evenly across districts, or not using prisoners at all in the districts. counts for political representation.
The newly formed Citizen Redistribution Committee is drafting district map proposals, which are due to be submitted to the legislature by October 30, and will hold several public meetings over the next month and a half. State lawmakers will either adopt one of the committee’s proposals or develop new ones.
“The CRC has discussed the concern about gerrymandering in prisons in a few meetings,” wrote committee chairman Edward Chávez in an email. “We recognize the problem and believe it is a legitimate concern… We do not have the last known addresses of individuals prior to their incarceration on Census Day. We did not request the data from any of the prisons or prisons and we do not know if they would have or would share the data. “
Jimenez, of Common Cause New Mexico, called for an end to jail gerrymandering at the August 10 meeting of the Legislative Assembly Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee, in which the Redistribution Committee of citizens took stock.
Gerrymandering in prison, Jimenez told the legislative committee, is an “injustice not only to those in prison, but to all New Mexicans.”
New Mexico State Prisons
Disclosed address of prisoner Cities in July 2021
List provided to New Mexico in depth by New Mexico Corrections
This story originally appeared in New Mexico in depth, a SFR partner.