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Redistricting Panel Adjusts Plan On Where To Count Pennsylvania Inmates

Marc Levy

Pennsylvania's five-member panel redrawing the boundaries of state legislative districts decided Tuesday to pare back a new policy to count state prison inmates in their home districts, now limiting it to those whose sentences expire in under 10 years.

The swing vote was the chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Reapportionment Commission, former University of Pittsburgh chancellor Mark Nordenberg.

Republicans and Democrats on the panel kept their positions from a vote on a more expansive policy at an earlier meeting, but Nordenberg switched sides.

On Aug. 24, Nordenberg sided with Democrats to count state inmates in their home districts, except for those serving life sentences and those who had been living in other states when they became incarcerated.

But on Tuesday, Nordenberg sided with Republicans seeking to limit the policy to those whose sentences end before April 1, 2030.

The commission is using 2020 Census data to redraw the state’s 203 House and 50 Senate districts for use starting with next year’s elections.

Roughly 37,000 state inmates are scattered among 23 facilities in 19 counties, located predominantly in whiter, more rural areas represented by Republicans, while their inmate populations are much more racially diverse and drawn more heavily from more racially diverse urban areas represented by Democrats.

About half of those inmates are serving sentences that end before April 1, 2030, while just under 5,300 are serving life sentences, according to state Department of Corrections figures. About 60 others had been living in other states when they became incarcerated.

The policy does not affect how federal and county prisoners are counted.

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