One Significant Step: How Reforms to Prison Districts Begin to Address Political Inequality

Skyrocketing rates of incarceration over the last three decades have had profound and lasting effects on the political power and engagement of local communities throughout the United States. Aggressive enforcement practices and mandatory sentencing laws have an impact beyond the individuals who are arrested, convicted, and incarcerated. These policies have wide-ranging and enduring ripple effects throughout the communities that are most heavily impacted by criminal laws, predominantly urban and minority neighborhoods. Criminal justice policies broadly impact everything from voter turnout and engagement, to serving on juries, participating in popular protests, census data, and the way officials draw legislative districts. The result is the disengagement, disenfranchisement, and disempowerment of residents of these communities, many of whom have never had direct contact with law enforcement or the criminal justice system.