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City Council Re-Districting Cannot Include State Prison Population

The Rhode Island federal district court has held that the City of Cranston cannot include the population of the state's Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) when it draws its districts for city council. Davidson v. City of Cranston, C.A. 14-91L, slip op., (D.R.I. May 24, 2016). The court distinguished the United States Supreme Court's recent decision, Evenwell v. Abbott,136 S.Ct. 1120 (2016), in reaching its decision. The district court held that the current redistricting plan violates Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision is also significant as the state's legislative districts for the General Assembly also include the ACI's population and, presumably, will also have to be redrawn.

As of 2010, Census Bureau said the ACI had 3,433 prisoners. The City had a population of 80,387 of which 13,642, including the prisoners, lived in Ward Six. Rhode Island's constitution bars people who have been convicted of a felony from voting while they are incarcerated. Other prisoners can only vote by absentee ballot in their pre-incarceration domiciles. Approximately 37 percent of the prisoners are serving a felony sentence. Only 6 or 7 inmates would be eligible to vote in Ward Six.

The City provides minimal services to the ACI and the inmates do not participate in the City's activities. The City does not attempt to regulate the prison and would probably be preempted from doing so by state law. City politicians do not campaign at the ACI or otherwise make any effort to solicit votes there. They rarely visit the ACI.

The Court said that the ACI prisoners were very different from the non-voting populations of Texas legislative districts the Supreme Court addressed in Evenwell. The Texas populations including children and other residents with a strong stake in the economic and political well-being of their domiciles. The ACI inmates have so no such stake in Ward 6. The Court noted that in a very analogous case in Florida, the federal district court has reached a similar conclusion with respect to the population of a state penitentiary, Calvin v. Jefferson County Board of Commissioners, Case No. 4:15CV131-MW/CAS, 2016 WL 1122884 (N.D. Fla 2016).

Davidson v. City of Cranston, C.A. 14-91L, slip op., (D.R.I. May 24, 2016), is available at: http://www.rid.uscourts.gov/menu/judges/opinions/Lagueux/05242016_1-14CV0091L_DAVIDSON_V_CRANSTON_P.pdf

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